Set in a dystopian future, a woman is forced to live as a concubine under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship.
In a dystopian near-future, the totalitarian and Christian fundamentalist government of Gilead rules the former United States amidst an ongoing civil war and subjugates women, who are not allowed to work, control money, or even read. Widespread infertility due to environmental contamination has resulted in the conscription of young fertile women—called Handmaids, according to biblical precedent—who are assigned to the homes of the elite, where they must have ritualized sex with the men in order to become pregnant and bear children for those men and their wives.
The main character, Offred, is the Handmaid assigned to an elite Commander and his wife, and as such is subject to the strictest rules and constant scrutiny; an improper word or deed on her part can lead to her execution. Offred, so named because her master is named Fred, can remember the “time before”, when she was married with a daughter and had her own name, but all she can safely do now is follow the rules of Gilead in hope that she can someday live free.