Historical Notes: a challenge to The Handmaid’s Tale

The historical notes section of The Handmaid’s Tale challenges the rest of the book in a variety of ways. One of the first and most obvious differences in regard to this section is the differing style of writing. The town hall meeting discusses average daily business and is filled with wit and laughter, a strikingly different tone then the preceding eerily memoir. The ending has a “lighter feel” and allows the reader a chance to recover from the story and gain a sense of closure. If Atwood had choose to omit this section, the story would have ended on a much graver note.

The reader is further comforted by the fact that much time has passed since the days of Gilead, and the customs of that society are merely a thing of the past. There continues to be much secrecy surrounding Gilead even to the present day and many questions remain unanswered.  I found it very interesting that the tapes had songs in the beginning of each to disguise their true content thus adding to the secrecy surrounding the story. The choice of these songs is also important to note, each adds meaning and irony to the story.

The historical note section may also serve as a warning to today’s society as, “some of the failure to reproduce can undoubtedly be traced to the widespread availability of birth control of various kinds”. It also blames many other byproducts of today’s society such as the AIDS epidemic, genetic deformities caused by nuclear power plants, chemical and biological warfare, and the uncontrolled use of insecticides and other sprays.

Choosing this ending also helps to legitimize the story. It attempts to show how a society like Gilead truly could have come about and in reality is not so different from other events that have occurred in history.  As the historical notes cleverly addresses, “there was little that was truly original with or indigenous to Gilead: its genius was synthesis.” I completely agree with this statement and believe that society is merely a culmination of the world’s past events and little is original, but rather a recombination of events and ideas.




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2 responses to “Historical Notes: a challenge to The Handmaid’s Tale

  1. I completely agree with you that the ending of the story has a much lighter tone than the preceding memoir. To add to what you were saying, I believe that this lighter feel of the historical notes- the way the speaker’s audience is laughing and discusses the story of the handmaid almost without feeling- acts as a way to invalidate the suffering of the handmaid. This future society has clearly not learned any lessons on morality or women’s rights, as can be discerned by the way they talk about the story. With this ending, Atwood urges us to think of Gilead as a possible future and reminds us to internalize the lessons of the Handmaid’s Tale and never give up our freedoms.

  2. aeernst

    While I agree that the historical notes section gives some closure to Offred’s tale, I believe that it leaves many important questions unanswered and even asks more. We realize in the historical notes that we may not even know any of the names of any of the characters that we have gotten so close to and pitied in Offred’s retelling. We are also left not knowing Offred’s fate, which I feel takes away any comfort gathered from knowing that the days of Gilead are now over. There is also no indication that the present world order is much better, because they do not scorn the society of Gilead, and it does not seem that they are much more focused on freedom and equality as in the previous era, and this leaves us to question more the implications of a society like Gilead.

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