Historical Evaluation

The novel The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood creates a view of the world that is incredibly unique.  One of the many things that adds to this being a one of a kind story is the fact that Atwood concluded the story with a section entitled “Historical Notes”.  By making this little end section something different than just a small ending chapter or an epilogue Atwood creates a different feel that is difficult to find in other dystopian stories.

The biggest thing that the “Historical Notes” does is lend the story an air of authenticity.  For one thing, these notes help place Gilead in context with the rest of the world such as when the Doctor discusses the “various Save the Women societies, of which there were many in the British Isles at that time” (Atwood 304).  By making those opposed to the Gilead method more organized and placing them in a different country, Atwood creates just another layer of detail that adds strength to her story.  Additionally, I believe the “Historical Notes” lends a second and more important idea of realism.  Dr. Pieixoto discusses the fact that no one can judge the individuals who lived then because the times were different.  This is a notion employed today when learning about past abuses and makes the story of Gilead all the more real to the reader.  By changing the very end of the book to a look back on a previous dark time Atwood lends an authenticity to the novel that would otherwise be difficult to cling to.

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2 responses to “Historical Evaluation

  1. I could not agree with you more, especially when you talk about the “Historical Notes” section adding a sense of authenticity to Atwoods’ story. I was a little surprised (after reading the concluding section) of how real it made the previous 300 pages seem. The whole very detailed section of where the tapes were found, and the impression the notes were being told from a speech made it seem as if I was listening to a history lecture on Gilead.
    Even though (in the end) I am not a huge fan of the historical notes section, I do like that Atwood chose to end her book this way. It (like you said) adds an interesting authenticity to the story, and I think it also makes it more relatable to today’s culture/society.

  2. Sophi

    This is a really great point. In particular, your point on the Historical Notes bringing a sense of authenticity to the story by placing Gilead in the context of the world is what clarified some of my issues with the story. While reading, I found it very difficult to put Gilead in a certain place on earth. Though things became a bit clearer as I read more of the story, I feel that the Historical Notes did a great job of adding that much-needed touch of realism to tie up the reader’s final impressions of the story.
    In addition, knowing a bit of the social troubles that were arising during pre-Gilead society brings a sense of understanding to the reader, though it would not be considered complete justification. This is because, at some point, Gileadean society took on an eerie, abusive “respect” that women were convinced they had. For example, they were assigned roles that were defined for them (not by them), as well as ceremonies that took place for the women at a time the men saw fit. Nevertheless, having the Historical Notes end the story brings a huge amount of clarity to the reader in regards to the events that began Gilead’s creation.

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