The historical notes section of The Handmaid’s Tale serves a very important purpose because it gives context to the story and answers some questions, while also asking more. The way that Offred’s account of her life ends on tape does not satisfy the reader, and so the historical notes give you that little bit more that the reader desperately wants.
Professor Pieixoto’s keynote address gives us more information about the larger society of the Republic of Gilead and the way it functioned, information that Offred would not know. We find out the larger context in which Offred and the rest of the people of Gilead lived, such as all of the civil wars and the theology and reasoning of many of the rules of the government. We also learn more details about the Underground Femaleroad and the large amount of resistance that Gilead faced. This information gives us a whole new set of circumstances in which to read Offred’s story.
We also find out answers to some questions in the historical notes, such as the fact that Nick must have been part of the Mayday group and orchestrated Offred’s escape because Offred’s tapes were found in a safe house of the Underground Femaleroad. We also most likely learn the Commander’s real identity, as well as his role in and contributions to the Republic of Gilead. Most importantly, we learn that the Republic is no longer a reality and is now something just to be studied. This brings the story to an absolute close because this society is no longer a threat to women and their freedom.
However much resolve the historical notes and Pieixoto’s address gives us, there are still questions that remain. We never learn Offred’s identity or her ultimate fate, along with those closest to her that she spoke so much about in her tapes. The fact that the address ends with Pieixoto saying “Are there any questions?” (Atwood 311) is represents how there are many more questions, but we do not get to learn the answers, for he stops the story there.