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Character Role Analysis

The Narrator and Moira

While the narrator and Moira are protagonist and guide, respectively, they also function as foils for one another. Both are fertile women "rounded up" to be indoctrinated at the Women's Center and forced into the Handmaid path—even though one is straight and the other is a lesbian. Once trapped in the Center, they approach their shared situation differently.

The narrator shrinks and tries to obey, while Moira rebels. This could be read two ways: Moira is either brave or stupid; the narrator is either a coward or she has the good sense to realize that there is no way out of this situation alive. Although they follow different paths, Moira and the narrator keep ending up, eerily, in the same places.

Luke, Nick, and the Commander

Several scholars and reviewers have emphasized the links between these three men. In her original New York Times review of The Handmaid's Tale, Mary McCarthy complains that the men are too similar, especially Luke and Nick (source).

None of the men is referred to by his real name (according to the "Historical Notes"), and the narrator does not reveal many of their defining characteristics. The narrator has sex with each of them, and all three try to impregnate her. Two, it seems, are successful. While we know the narrator loves or loved Luke, and she seems to be falling for Nick, she never quite defines precisely how she feels about the Commander.

Reviewer Madonne Miner defends Atwood's blurring of the male characters. She writes, "All three men merge, and this merging requires us to reassess supposed distinctions among husbands, lovers, and commanders" (source).