Historical Notes: Giving The Handmaid’s Tale Historical Context

The Historical Notes at the end of “The Handmaid’s Tale” give us  historical context of the story and give us clues of what could have possibly happened to Offred at the end of the story. Since they are part of an Anthropology department, they don’t necessarily focus on just the historical details, they also delve into why the Gilead period happened. They even go into observing similar trends in other nations such as Romania. There is also a focus on the pre-Gilead period that gives good insight into why the Gilead period and periods that followed it happened. Many Caucasians were becoming infertile and this created a fear. The legalization of birth control and abortion stirred this fear up even more. So even though the dystopia presented seems really extreme, the history gives it an explanation. They are not defending the Gilead period, but simply presenting explanations and historical context, thus making the story seem more real.

Also the historical notes give us a hint of what may have happened to Offred. When Professor Pieixoto speaks of Offred’s tone, he says this: “Also, there is a certain reflective quality about the narrative that would to my mind rule out synchronicity” (Atwood 277). Professor Pieixoto suggests that the tapes they find of Offred telling her story sound more like they are looking back than in the moment. Plus, he also notes she would have no place to record or keep these tapes if she had made them while she was at her Commander’s house. This suggests that Offred made it to the Underground Femaleroad and not with the Eyes. So in  a way, the historical notes give us an idea of Offred’s fate after the story ends.

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2 responses to “Historical Notes: Giving The Handmaid’s Tale Historical Context

  1. smboehm

    I agree completely with your take of the historical notes section. After reading so much about Offred’s life, it’s interesting to see what the reality of her society was and how similar situations in today’s society could also be possible although they seem out of reach. Although we never find out what exactly happens to Offred at the end of her life, we do have some closure on events and some contextual reasons as to why things happen such as events that Offred’s first person narrative would have been incapable of knowing when voicing her story on tapes. The historical notes section is extremely important and adds important information to the story, although we don’t know exactly what happens to Offred.

  2. I agree with you in your statement that “They are not defending the Gilead period, but simply presenting explanations and historical context, thus making the story seem more real.” I also believe that Pieixoto is not “taking up” for the actions of Gilead and the way they treated their women. Instead, he is given us the historical background which surrounds the events. By explaining in detail what in history happened which correlates with Gilead, we can get a better feel of the novel and somewhat look at it is a non-fiction novel, being that most of these events happened similarly in society once upon a time. Although we do not know what truly happened to Offred, we are given hints/details which help us somewhat put our own conclusion and analysis to it and what may have happened.

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