A question of names

Monday August 28, 2006 @ 03:15 PM (UTC)

I am in the midst of writing a response/commentary to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopia based on Fundamentalism’s grab for reproductive control of women. And I continuously run into one stylistic question: what do I call the protagonist?

So far, I am using, well, “the protagonist,” but it is cumbersome. The issue is that her ‘name’ in the novel, “Offred,” is not her name. It’s a possessive title indicating she is the property of Fred (and which applies to her only so long as she is assigned to him.) By using this name, I feel I would be somehow complicit, legitimizing the protagonist’s reproductive slavery. (Yes, I know she’s fictional, but I am an English major. Words have power and I have ethical qualms about my treatment of fictional characters.)

She has a name, this fictional woman, but it is never stated. A good guess is possible from a close reading, but it’s hardly clear communication to use the possible answer to a riddle as a fact. So, I struggle on with “the protagonist,” using “Offred” only in scare-quotes, and suspecting that this quandary was precisely Atwood’s intention.


Both of you are very silly and have suggested things EVEN less clear than calling her by her possible real name :p

Well, I just thought Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be the perfect deuteragonist, given her advocacy for women’s rights and resistance to religious (and other excuses for) oppression of her sex. And quite fotogenic, I might add. :o)

Ack, you taught me a new word!

The reproductive machine formerly known as Offred?

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