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.