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Posted on May 31st, 2012, by

A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is traditionally considered to be the book focused on the problem of discrimination and subjugation of women in the totalitarian society where all spheres of life are controlled by the few privileged men while the role of women is minimized. Nevertheless, regardless such a focus on the main character, which is a woman known as Offred, the author also paid a lot of attention to male characters in order to show that not all of them are as despotic and negligent in relation to women as a reader may initially think while starting to read her book. In this respect, it is worthy of mention the major male characters of the novel, such as Luke, the Commander, and Nick. All of them, played an important role in the life of Offred but, at the same time, this woman probably united these three characters and revealed their common features. In fact, all of them, being in a different positions in the social ladder, are still rebellious in a way and treat Offred differently from what the existing social norms expect them to and this is probably the major common feature of these male characters of the book which affected the images of these characters and their actions.

First of all, it should be said that all the three male characters, namely Luke, the Commander and Nick have close relationship with Offred. However, it is worthy of mention that Luke and Nick seem to be more concerned about the physical aspect of their relationship with the main character, while the Commander pays a lot of attention to the spiritual aspect of his communication with Offred. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that Luke seems to be the real passion of the main character which she really loves. In fact, it is possible to estimate that Luke was a kind of a moderate combination of the qualities of both the Commander and Nick since, on the one hand, Offred enjoyed their spiritual contact, or rather the emotional sphere of their communication, while, on the other hand, she also was physically attracted by this man.

In this respect, it should be said that the Commander is quite different from Luke in general but still he has some internal, spiritual richness which makes him similar to Luke. As for Nick, it should be said that he is more similar to Luke but the author emphasizes that the physical relationship is the major reason of the close contact between Offred and this man. In actuality, she chooses Nick not because of some of his qualities or because he is attractive to her but simply because she really needs to get pregnant in order to avoid the exile to colonies that will signify the end of the life in the really civilized world, if such a definition is appropriate to the world the main characters of the book live in.

However, the connection between the three male characters becomes particularly obvious when their attitude to the ruling regime and the existing social order is carefully analyzed. It proves beyond a doubt that their perception of the existing totalitarian, despotic regime based on religious biases and standards affects dramatically their behavior, which though varies still remains similar in principle. To put it more precisely all the three male characters, Luke, the Commander, and Nick do not really accept the ruling regime and the existing social order and they attempt to protest against it, though in different ways. In general their views and attitude to the regime are rather negative though their actions and behavior varies from occasional and insignificant violation of the existing rules to the radical and extremist actions targeting at the downfall of the existing social order.

In this respect, it is possible to estimate that all the three characters are the opponents of the existing regime but some of them are passive while others are more active. In this respect, it should be said that the Commander is probably the most passive opponent. In fact, it is even hardly possible to state that he rejects the existing regime since he serves to this regime and benefits from it considerably because everything he actually possesses and has already achieved he has received due to this totalitarian regime. Nevertheless, it does not prevent him from the violation of some norms that makes it possible to speak about the Commander as a secret opponent or dissident who is rather focused on his personal interests than on the downfall of the regime at large. This is obvious from his attitude to Offred whom he takes to the places formally forbidden to attendance, such as the night club and brothel, for instance. Moreover, he even gives Offred newspapers and magazines from the past to read that is also a violation of the existing norms. However, such actions rather resemble light efforts to get some personal freedom and benefit from the privileged position the Commander occupies in the society than an active protest against the ruling regime.

Nevertheless, willingly or not, the Commander undermines the basis of the totalitarian regime as his lifestyle and actions demonstrate that the regime is falling apart from within since even the Commander cannot bear its strict rules.

As for Luke, he certainly resembles the Commander in his attempts to totally hide his anti-regime actions and plans but his views are better shaped and it is possible to definitely say that he would rather prefer the downfall of this regime than its further development. As a result, he attempts to pretend to be a part of this regime, for instance when he pretends to be a doctor, but, in actuality, he is convinced opponent of the regime but his views goes further personal interests like it is in the case of the Commander, though they are not so radical and revolutionary as it is in the case of Nick.

In fact, Nick is the most radical and extremist opponent of the ruling regime. He openly rejects the basis of the despotic rules established in the society and he readily helps Offred in her efforts to avoid the repressive actions from the part of the state system. In actuality, Nick is a rebellious guerilla whose entire life is dedicated to the permanent struggle with the unjust, unfair, inhuman and undemocratic regime. It is even possible to estimate that Nick personifies the desire of Luke and the Commander to change the existing social order for better but, in addition, he chooses his own way which he believes is the most effective in his revolutionary struggle.

Thus, all the three male characters are unified by their disagreement with the ruling regime that is revealed through their relationships with Offred and, regardless the difference of their actions, it is possible to trace how the personal disagreement with the existing norms of the Commander can grew into clandestine but not very aggressive opposition of Luke and, eventually result in the open military guerilla struggle of Nick.

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