The “Historical Notes” section at the end of “The Handmaid’s Tale” does no more to clarify the fate of the heroine than the actual ending of the book does. At the conclusion of Dr. Pieixoto’s seminar, there are still several questions left open, including what is to me the most important question: what happened to Offred?
I would like to know after reading her story, who was Offred? What was her real name? What became of her? This we do not find out after reading the Historical Notes. As Dr. Pieixoto simply says regarding Offred’s personal history, “We do not know.” (311)
Dr. Pieixoto’s speech covers the historical background surrounding Offred’s tale, but to me it did not really advance the story at all. We get some ideas of how the Republic of Gilead started, where it occurred, as well as some more personal details like who Offred’s Commander could have possibly been. But to me, after the historical notes section is finished, there are more questions are raised than answered. Take for example the part where Dr. Pieixoto mentions the two possible men who could have been Offred’s Commander. He says that neither of these men “was married to a woman who was or ever had been known either as ‘Pam’ or as “Serena Joy.’ ” (Atwood 309) He goes on further to say that the referencing of the Commander’s wife to be named Serena Joy appears to be a “malicious invention.” (309) In this book, we’re supposed to be reading a historical account, so if Offred invented Serena Joy’s role as the Commander’s wife, then about what else can we be sure she is telling the ‘truth’?
Perhaps Atwood did not want Offred’s fate to be the focus of the story. Perhaps she meant for us to take away deeper ideas, such as what humankind is capable of doing to each other. Personally, I would rather have found out that in the end there was some happiness or redemption for Offred after reading so much about her. It would have given an idea of hope, something the Historical Notes do not provide us concerning Offred’s fate.