Degree Level




First Advisor

Doty, Josh

Second Advisor

Langston, Camille



LCSH subject

Point of view (Literature); Psychic trauma; Abused women in literature


Despite not being solely about trauma, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale's (1985) is written through the voice of a traumatized narrator. Offred's narration in this novel is unreliable, shifting between past and present and sharing multiple possibilities of events. This narrative voice accentuates the uncertainty and tension within this story. Offred's unreliable narration reveals her inner psychological state. Through readings of medical-humanity and cognitive literary theory, this thesis examines how trauma alters Offred’s narrative voice in The Handmaid’s Tale. I argue that Offred’s narration is a trauma response to her oppressive environment and is motivated by an attempt to reclaim her lost agency. Offred's suffered through constant dehumanization and sexual violence for much of the novel, traumatizing her deeply. In order to cope with the trauma, Offred has modified the narrative regarding her time as a Handmaid. She confronts the traumatic events she has endured through evasion and half-lies because it is more manageable than the alternative: acknowledging what is truly happening to her. Offred creates her own "self-story", which allows her to find her voice once more. Despite the pain of revisiting her story, Offred needs to share her story in order to prove that she is a human being with her own autonomy.

Publication Date

Spring 2024

Document Type