Historical Notes or Debriefing?

In The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, the final section of the novel, “Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale” at first glance appears to be merely an attachment with little relevance to the entirety of  the work. However, through this discourse much is revealed not only about the fate of Offred, the protagonist, but additional explanation of the fate of Gilead is provided.

Most importantly perhaps with the ambiguous conclusion of the novel, the historical notes offer a glimmer of hope for the protagonist. “…it could not have been recorded during the period of time it recounts, since, if the author is telling the truth, no machine or tapes would have been available to her, nor would she have had a place of concealment for them” (Atwood 303). From this and with additional hints such as the location of the tapes, the Underground Femaleroad, the audience can deduce that Offred escaped Gilead and was free long enough to record her recollections- her ultimate fate, however, is unclear.

Additionally, the panel discusses the fall of Gilead. With the keynote speakers names being reflective of an intermixed culture such as James Darcy Pieixoto, it is obvious that the goal of the purely Caucasian society of Gilead failed. In relation to the names of the speakers of the conference, it is interesting that the Chair is not only a woman, but a woman named ” Maryann Crescent Moon”. Throughout the novel, there is an emphasis on night, monthly cycles, and fertility, all symbolized by the moon. These factors in Gilead were utilized to oppress women, however in this address, it can be seen that a woman bearing the namesake of the means of oppression is not only empowered, but superior. This further highlights the abysmal lack of success of Gilead.

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One response to “Historical Notes or Debriefing?

  1. Samantha Cooke

    I really enjoyed your insight in the last paragraph, especially the part concerning the motif of the moon and related subjects. You also suggested that there may be a spark of hope to take away from the Historical Notes: the society of Gilead has ended, and instead there is one that is, perhaps, a more integrated society than our own, a pre-Gildean society. That is a different interpretation I got from the ending – I thought instead that the Caucasian race had been reduced. I did not stop to consider the intermixing of the names, though, thinking that such “traditionally white” names are incorporated by other races as a means of “fitting in” with modern society, as seen today, and they carried over into that society.

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