Future Society Analogous to Our Own

The conclusion of The Handmaid’s Tale offers us no insight into the fate of our protagonist Offred and the historical notes do not offer us any sort of resolution either. The lack of resolution, of conclusion, in the novel functions to remind the reader that no future is certain. Even though Offred’s destiny was already decided in Gilead as being a handmaid, we can see that this is not her ultimate fate- whether she ends up in Jezebel’s, in the colonies, or if she escapes is uncertain, however, we can see through this ending that a society, even one as totalitarian as Gilead, cannot successfully map the destinies of their population and that no matter how oppressive the society, the society can not account for all variables and will ultimately fail.

Most importantly. the historical ending contradicts much of what Atwood was trying to convince us of in the preceding part of the book. In the first part of the book Atwood writes in a way that we sympathize with Offred and judge Gilead to be an immoral society. In the historical notes however, Peixoto contradicts this by stating “…we must be cautious about passing moral judgement upon the Gileadeans” (Atwood 302) and continues by making excuses for the Giledeans immoral practices by citing declining birthrates. The audience to Peixoto’s lecture seem almost unmoved by Offred’s plight as they talk about the recordings in a nonchalant way, laughing at intervals. They even value some readings from the Commander’s computer more than the moral teachings of Offred’s plight: “What we would give, now, for even twenty pages or so of print-out from Waterford’s private computer!” (Atwood 310). This future society may think of themselves as progressive, but their society still has a core of patriarchy and oppression. The historical ending, in conclusion, has the effect of creating a society much like ours, who believe themselves to be progressive but in fact have seeds of oppression which may grow into totalitarianism if left alone. Atwood urges us to think of Gilead as a possible future and to rethink our own society, as it is, in fact, not progressive but primitive.




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4 responses to “Future Society Analogous to Our Own

  1. I think your point of view is very credible, and something I should have taken more into consideration. It is true that the historical notes do not offer any sort of resolution of what happened to Offred, but it does functions a conclusion to the novel as a whole. The novel does remind us that no future is certain and perhaps this section of the book if even serving as a warning to future generations about the risks and side effects of very common practices in even today’s society. We most certainly still use birth control, pesticides and weapons of war, all which were attributed to the state of Gilead. I believe Atwood is just trying to remind us that after the fact, to no judge people to harshly because most of the people in Gilead acted the way they did simply because they were a product of the environment. Even if they believed the way things were was wrong, most people do little to go against their entire culture. I think your point about progressive vs. primitive societies is a very important one, but within the present context how does know which the society truly is?

  2. aeernst

    I think it’s very interesting that you bring up that we never discover Offred’s destiny, even though Gilead tried to determine her fate for her. In the historical notes, we discover that she was able to escape and create her own destiny, one that we are not privileged to learn, even from a totalitarian state. This is a very strong point to be made after reading The Handmaid’s Tale, and I feel like it gives hope to the reader in the fact that you can always determine your own destiny and escape the powers trying to oppress you if you are determined enough.

  3. autumncassidy

    As I read the Historical Notes, I was also somewhat taken aback by the nonchalance of the audience’s reaction. Of course, this was due in part to the abruptness with which it occurs. The reader is so immersed in the events of Offred’s life and her ultimate fate that it is difficult to be so emotionally tied and subjective to be wrenched into an objective and retrospective view of the work. However, I think that the Historical Notes offer insight into the bias of both the members of the seminar and of Offred’s thoughts that the reader is privy to. The keynotes speaker and the rest of the audience are aware that the “age of Gilead” has passed while those in the society look upon this era as one that is possibly never-ending. With the issue of the retrospective opinion, it is difficult to juxtapose the seminar’s reflections after the reader has been so thoroughly permeated with the inter-workings of Gilead and its impact on its members.

  4. I agree with you when you state that the historical ending creates a society much like ours. Here in the United States, we see patriarchy in dominance. This is something that seems irreversible by looking at the length of time which men have been in power. In America’s society, men are looked at as the “breadwinners”. Women can work, however they are also responsible to take care of the kids, cook, clean, pretty much maintain the house. Also, much like The Handmaid’s Tale, we see oppression in our society. We (as women) are not trying to “break away” from this trend, instead we just live by it on a day-to-day basis. Although our society may not be as strict on women as Gilead is on theirs, we still see that in both societies, male=dominance=power.

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