Read the description of Serena Joy’s past and present in Chapters 8 (pp55-6) & 14 (pp91-94).

What role has she played in establishing Gilead as a republic? What is the significance of her character in the novel? 

  • One of the great ironies in the novel is that Serena Joy preaches the Gileadean ideology as a televangelist – but then becomes a victim of the regime in her own right. She was a media personality or singing star but is now trapped in her home. She, a woman, was instrumental in Gilead’s rise to power. A victim of her own ideology (she didn’t think it would apply to her).
  • She has to agree to the system – even though it is clear that she keenly resents this arrangement. It symbolises her deteriorating health but also violates her marriage.
  • Interestingly, Serena is referred to by her name not just ‘Wife’.
  • She is a satirical portrait – a parody – of the Virtuous Woman (who, in the Old Testament, was willing to be ruled by her husband and put his needs first). Her only place of power is in the living room. She resents Offred, who can do something that Serena cannot, showing how women are pitted against each other.
  • Wives have nothing really to do – Marthas do all the housework – except work in the garden. Perversely, tending to the garden to grow flowers (instead of growing children).
  • ‘How furious she must be, now that she’s been taken at her word.’ (58)

*Read these notes on her character