The Only Hope is in the Historical Notes

The historical notes acts to create a sense of hope for the dystopian society described by Offred through use of the freedom of the future setting to take note of the people that were able to escape and tell their story.  The historical notes mentions “various Save the Women societies, of which there were many in the British Isles at that time”, thus showing the reader that not the entire world was overtaken by the Gilead regime and there were still people working for women’s rights and freedoms (304).  The historical notes also prove that the society was unable to continue and faded into obscurity to the point that future historians are left with a few articles and diaries to piece together what happened.  The author uses the historical notes to frame the story in a way that best explains the use of the first person perspective that is telling the story in the past tense along with the protagonist’s despairing and frustrated tone.  The historical notes placed after the story allow for there to be an element of hope without detracting from the tension present in Offred’s story.  The two separate tones in the novel allow the author to add hope without detracting from the danger of the regime or adding any positive elements to the society.  Their presence also leaves Offred’s fate shrouded in mystery, allowing the reader to infer whether she escaped or even received anything close to a happy ending.  The historical notes with its less suspenseful tone are able to delve into the possibility of Offred’s escape and the decline of the regime while still preserving the previous segment’s atmosphere of hopelessness and danger.

 

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Only Hope is in the Historical Notes

  1. smboehm

    I completely agree with your statement that the historical notes form as a sort of “hope” for the reader. I like that Atwood included this as the ending of the story because although we don’t find out exactly what happened to Offred, we do find out many informative pieces of historical context that help the reader understand the story better than previously due to the one-sided narrative of Offred. The historical notes truly are a hope for the reader who is still curious after reading the story—even though it doesn’t answer all of our looming questions, it still does justice in curing some of our curiosity and need to relate the story to real life situations.

  2. siegvald

    I agree with your post as far as there is an element of hope for the world, but I really do think that what happens to Offred is really a very crucial question. I feel that after reading 200+ pages of her life, the reader deserves to know what exactly happens to her. We know she escapes basically, but details please. Reading Offred’s story is like reading her diary–it’s personal and contains her feelings, thoughts, emotions, etc. So, one can’t help but be intrigued as to how she managed to get out of the whole situation. (As opposed to the brief ‘wrap-up’ we get in the Historical Notes.)

  3. stperry1

    I agree that it was better to include the historical notes as the final part of the story instead of giving the reader all the details of Offred’s escape. Although she is a very crucial character, in this type of novel I think it makes more of an impact to leave the reader wondering with hardly anything to go on. It sets this story apart from the normal novel that has a perfectly wrapped up story and usually a very happy ending. With this story the realism that the historical notes provide is far more valuable than knowing the complete story of Offred. By being unsettled by the lack of conclusion readers will be more likely to attempt to figure out what could have happened to her.

  4. ashleighbarraca

    It’s great that you brought up the two varying tones within the novel brought about by the Historical Notes. I agree that the story would be a lot more bleak without them. I love that Atwood found this “loophole” around the first-person narration of the novel; while first-person present narration can be extremely tricky, it is probably my favorite narrative device in fiction. However, part of what makes it tricky is having to keep true to the character while ALSO providing some relief for the reader. I agree that any sort of break in tension during Offred’s narration would have pulled me out of the story completely.

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