The historical notes in The Handmaid’s Tale give the book an entirely different feel by offering unusual insight into Offred’s life after her escape, and the fate of the Gilead society itself. First, it provides a frame for the story – the conversational tone of the story becomes clear when it is revealed that it was recorded on tape. This frame makes the story seem more real, in a way, more than just a story: it is an actual history. Professor Pieixoto also reveals to us that Offred did change at least some names (if not, possibly, all), and suggests this is because either she is afraid for her daughter or she herself is in danger. Both options take from the reader the hopeful, happy ending that was suggested by Offred’s escape among the Mayday rebel group in her retelling.
Something I found interesting was that the people in the Historical Notes were not white – the convention is held in Nunavit, and the introductory speaker is “Maryann Crescent Moon”. Crescent Moon also mentions another professor at the university – Professor Running Dog. Both have names that are clearly not “traditional Christian”. They are part of the “Department of Caucasian Anthropology” (Atwood 299). That there would be a department dedicated to Caucasian Anthropology suggests that something significant happened to the Caucasian race.
Pieixoto mentions a decline in birth rate, attributing it to many causes, such as the “widespread availability of birth control of various kinds” and diseases such as “R-strain syphilis” and the “infamous AIDS epidemic” as well as environmental factors, such as nuclear waste plants, toxins dumped into the water supply, and biological warfare (Atwood 304). That these things, products of our modern society, might cause such a drastic change in the population is a scary thought, and one that adds another dimension that it would not have without the context of the Historical Notes.