The narrator is captured, sent to the Center, and assigned the position of Handmaid.
The narrator is not alone in her capture and brainwashing; she is part of a select group of fertile women whom this new government has chosen to be molded into child-bearing vessels for the upper classes. Their identities are removed and their personalities gradually scrubbed away.
In order to distance herself from her current situation, the narrator retreats to flashbacks and memories.
The narrator realizes that her situation could be worse: she could be in the Colonies or even dead. She uses her memories to take herself out of her body, away from the demeaning circumstances that constrict her, and relies on them to remind herself of her intelligence and capacity for love. By holding onto these things, she manages to grit her teeth and bear it as a Handmaid. She has opportunities to kill herself and doesn't take them. She finds ways to take small pleasures and satisfactions from her situation.
The narrator is forced into secret sexual relationships with the Commander and Nick. Discovery of either could result in her death. She considers giving up the desire to escape and staying in this demeaning position of Handmaid just so she can be close to Nick.
The narrator enters into several different relationships, each of which is illegal and dangerous. She can no longer rely on her flashbacks to distance herself from her situation. She can't ignore how precarious her situation is or how close she is to losing the very little she has left. She's trapped in a cycle of non-pregnancy, unable to achieve the one thing that could keep her safe. Time is running out.
The narrator's openness to the resistance is potentially revealed after Ofglen's death, and Serena Joy finds out about her involvement with the Commander. The narrator is waiting for an unknown punishment.
The delicate balance the narrator had been trying to achieve comes crashing down after she has to watch a terrible execution. One of her only friends and allies disappears, and Serena Joy is furious with her for her betrayal. The narrator fears she has lost her place and must wait for a punishment she can't imagine.
The two Eyes, who could be government agents or resistance workers, come to take the heroine away.
The narrator's removal from the Commander's house is a redemption of sorts: she's taken away from a place where she's been marking time. Yet the redemptive qualities of this rescue (or arrest, depending on your point of view) are purposefully left ambiguous. We don't know if the narrator is really being redeemed or if she's been damned by her flirtation with the resistance.