Offred: the protagonist and narrator. She was separated from her husband and daughter after the formation of the Republic of Gilead and is part of the first generation of Gilead's women: those who remember pre-Gilead times. Having proven fertile, she is considered an important commodity and has been placed as a handmaid in the home of the Commander Fred and his wife Serena Joy to bear a child for them (Serena Joy is said to be infertile).
- Offred is a slave name which describes her function: she is "of Fred", i.e. she belongs to her Commander, Fred, as a concubine. In the novel, Offred says that she is not a concubine, or a geisha girl, but just a tool; a "two legged womb". It is implied that her birth name is June. The women in training to be handmaids whisper names across their beds at night. The names are "Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June", and all are later accounted for except June. In addition, one of the Aunts tells the handmaids-in-training to stop "mooning and June-ing". Miner suggests that "June" is a pseudonym. As "Mayday" is the name of the Gilead resistance, June could be an invention by the protagonist. The Nunavit conference covered in the epilogue takes place in June.
The Commander: He says that he is a sort of scientist and was previously involved in something like market research. Later, it is hypothesized, but not confirmed, that he might have been one of the architects of the Republic and its laws. His first name is presumably "Fred".
- He engages in forbidden intellectual pursuits with Offred, such as playing Scrabble, and introduces her to a secret club that serves as a brothel for high-ranking officers. Offred learns that the Commander carried on a similar relationship with his previous handmaid and that she killed herself when his wife found out. In the epilogue, the academics speculate that one of two figures, both instrumental in the establishment of Gilead, may have been Fred, based on his first name. It is strongly suggested that the Commander was a man named Frederick R. Waterford who was killed in a purge shortly after Offred was taken away, on charges that he was harboring an enemy agent.
Serena Joy: A former televangelist, she is the Commander's Wife in the fundamentalist theocracy. The state took away her power and public recognition, and tries to hide her past as a television figure. Offred identifies her master's wife by recalling seeing her on TV when she was a little girl early on Saturday mornings while waiting for the cartoons to air. Believed to be sterile (although the suggestion is made that the Commander is sterile, Gileadean laws attribute sterility only to women), she is forced to accept that he has use of a handmaid. She resents having to take part on the monthly fertility ritual. She strikes a deal with Offred to arrange for her to have sex with Nick in order to become pregnant. According to Professor Pieixota in the epilogue, Serena Joy or Pam are pseudonyms for the character's name, implied as Thelma.
Ofglen: A neighbour of Offred's and a fellow Handmaid, she is partnered with Offred to do the daily shopping. Handmaids are never alone and are expected to police each other's behaviour. Ofglen is a member of the Mayday resistance. In contrast to Offred, she is daring. She knocks out a Mayday spy who is to be tortured and killed in order to save him the pain of a violent death. Ofglen later commits suicide before the government takes her into custody as part of the resistance, possibly to avoid giving away any information.
- Another handmaid named Ofglen is assigned as Offred's shopping partner. She threatens Offred against any thought of resistance. She breaks protocol by telling her what happened to the first Ofglen.
Nick: The Commander's chauffeur who lives above the garage. By Serena Joy's arrangement, he and Offred start a sexual relationship to increase her chance of getting pregnant. If she were to prove sterile, she would be shipped to the ecological wastelands of the Colonies. Offred begins to develop feelings for him. Nick is an ambiguous character, and Offred does not know if he is a party loyalist or part of the resistance. The epilogues suggests that he was part of the resistance, and aided Offred in escaping the Commander's house.
Moira: is a close friend of Offred's since college. A lesbian, she has resisted the homophobia of the Gilead society. Moira is taken to be a Handmaid soon after Offred. She escapes by stealing an Aunt's pass and clothes. Offred later encounters her working as a prostitute in a party-run brothel. She had been caught and chose the brothel over being sent to the Colonies.
Luke: Luke was Offred's husband prior to the formation of Gilead. He had divorced his first wife to marry her. Under Gilead, all divorces were retroactively nullified, resulting in Offred being considered an adulteress and their daughter a bastard. Offred was forced to become a Handmaid and her daughter was given to a loyalist family. Since their attempt to escape to Canada, Offred has heard nothing of Luke.
Professor Pieixoto: The "co-discoverer [with Professor Knotly Wade] of Offred's tapes," he talked in his presentation about "the 'Problems of Authentication in Reference to The Handmaid's Tale'."
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