Understanding “Why” Does Not Make it Right

There were various ways in which A Handmaid’s Tale could have been closed. However, the current choice of ending is interesting, because not only does Professor Pieixoto discuss the recovering process of the tapes from which the tale was extracted, he also defends the Gileadean ideology by showing agreement and understanding of why Gilead society practiced the way they did. In fact, there is not much concession as Professor Pieixoto insists on the audience understanding why this society was indeed reasonable in their laws and had the intentions of protecting women and their “biological destinies” (204) while giving men the unshakeable power of control.

For the first half of his speech, Professor Pieixoto does well in maintaining a certain level of objectivity when he presents information on the recovery and restoration of the cassette tapes found in the army locker. However, his subjectivity in the way he later states that Gilead’s “genius was synthesis” (281), makes me a bit weary of the information he is choosing to share with the audience. Usually “genius” and “synthesis” have very positive connotations, but when they are used in the context of Gilead society, I find it difficult to convince myself that – despite Gilead’s so-called innovativeness – the “synthesis” they were trying to achieve was ever truly attained. Because of this bias, the credibility of the Professor diminishes greatly; I become much more suspicious of his intentions and his message.

This subtle tone of Gileadean support changes very little, because towards the end of his speech, when presenting possible outcomes of Offred’s escape, he suggests that by leaving into the “outside world” (285) Offred is also leaving her “protected existence” (285). The fact that he uses “outside world” to describe life outside of Gilead strikes me as odd, as though he is admitting to the isolation and lack of freedom Gilead has in relation to all other places on earth. Further, suggesting that women were more “protected” in Gilead makes me curious about his idea of “protection” and if, to him, this means having to exchange an individual’s freedom to have it. I would expect a professor willing to speak on the topic of Gilead to also have certain ideas of what is ethical and unethical, especially in terms of whether the application of ethics is only relevant to one gender or to both.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Understanding “Why” Does Not Make it Right

  1. I really enjoyed the idea behind your post, I personally failed to realize that even though they explained it, it did not make what happened it Gilead right. I think this often occurs throughout history, where the later culture has to deal with mistakes from the past. For instance how does one properly compensate an honor the Native Americans, whose land was invaded and taken over from them? Or how do we compensate African American in the United States whose ancestors were enslaved to us? The people in the post-Gilead era do not address this issue, but rather justify and show how Gilead was possible. I agree with you that the “synthesis” of Gilead was never achieved, however I do not believe that is the meaning that line is trying to Achieve. In contrast, I viewed it as a testament that there is really nothing new about Gilead, rather it is a “synthesis” of many other aspects of previous societies. I think this could be proven true. However I do agree with you that one should be critical of the message and keep in mind from who’s point of view it is. I believe the only reason he refers to her leaving the protection on Gilead, is because it was known about how life would be within Gilead, but once leaving it all there is was uncertainty about the rest of the world.

  2. vrosengrant20

    I did not notice the bias beforehand, but you are right about the Professor’s opinions which seem to contradict the sympathies that should arise when reading about Offred’s perspective. When reading Offred’s story, especially from the first person perspective, it is easy to sympathize with her as she describes her own depression and frustration. Yet the Professor is not prone to mentioning just how much she suffered and instead justifies the society’s rules according to the circumstances of that time. This is most likely connected to the fact that the Professor is male, which stops him from connected with Offred on a more personal level thus furthering Atwood’s tendency to make the male characters less sympathetic.

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