The conclusion of The Handmaid’s Tale offers us no insight into the fate of our protagonist Offred and the historical notes do not offer us any sort of resolution either. The lack of resolution, of conclusion, in the novel functions to remind the reader that no future is certain. Even though Offred’s destiny was already decided in Gilead as being a handmaid, we can see that this is not her ultimate fate- whether she ends up in Jezebel’s, in the colonies, or if she escapes is uncertain, however, we can see through this ending that a society, even one as totalitarian as Gilead, cannot successfully map the destinies of their population and that no matter how oppressive the society, the society can not account for all variables and will ultimately fail.
Most importantly. the historical ending contradicts much of what Atwood was trying to convince us of in the preceding part of the book. In the first part of the book Atwood writes in a way that we sympathize with Offred and judge Gilead to be an immoral society. In the historical notes however, Peixoto contradicts this by stating “…we must be cautious about passing moral judgement upon the Gileadeans” (Atwood 302) and continues by making excuses for the Giledeans immoral practices by citing declining birthrates. The audience to Peixoto’s lecture seem almost unmoved by Offred’s plight as they talk about the recordings in a nonchalant way, laughing at intervals. They even value some readings from the Commander’s computer more than the moral teachings of Offred’s plight: “What we would give, now, for even twenty pages or so of print-out from Waterford’s private computer!” (Atwood 310). This future society may think of themselves as progressive, but their society still has a core of patriarchy and oppression. The historical ending, in conclusion, has the effect of creating a society much like ours, who believe themselves to be progressive but in fact have seeds of oppression which may grow into totalitarianism if left alone. Atwood urges us to think of Gilead as a possible future and to rethink our own society, as it is, in fact, not progressive but primitive.
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.
The end of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has a section entitled, “Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale.” In your blog post #7, write a post responding to the “Historical notes on The Handmaid’s Tale.”
What do you make of this section of the book? How does this challenge the rest of the book (the previous nearly 300 pages)? What is the function of having THIS ending (i.e., the historical notes)? What would the text be like had Atwood omitted the historical notes?
The usual list of criteria is below:
- Give your post a good title.
- Add tags (keywords) to the post.
- Posts must be at least 250 words.
- Posts must include at least one quotation from Atwood’s text.
- Stay focused on answering the prompt. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer. Remember to clarify the importance of your post. Don’t just tell us that something is “important”; rather explain why it is important.
- Make an argument. Don’t summarize the text.
- Use specific moments from Atwood’s book to support and illustrate your argument.
- Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotations.
This response is due before class on Tuesday, March 1st. Blog comments (at least 2) are due before class on Thursday, March 3rd.
“Freedom from” in “A Handmaid’s Tale” is just a nice way of saying “under control.” Aunt Lydia was just trying to get the girls complacent by saying that instead of “freedom to,” they had “freedom from”: freedom from all the things that before they actually had freedom to do. As Offred remembers in her past life; “I think about laundromats. What I wore to them . . . what I put into them: my own clothes, my own soap, my own money, money I had earned myself. I think about having such control.” (Atwood 24) Now she has no control. In the past, these women had the freedom to do certain things, and these things granted came with such danger as there is danger for everyone—such as going certain places at night alone, motorists who are really criminals pretending to be stranded, etc.—but at least the women had a choice in the matter as far as what they could do, where they could go. Now they are being controlled and liberated (according to Aunt Lydia) from those things they did before. This new government of the Republic of Gilead obviously decided that they knew what was best for people and assigned living “slots” that people could fit into (men and women). The Aunts were really trying to brainwash the girls into thinking that this new way of life was actually better than the life they had before. In some ways the life women had before could be debated as to whether or not it was really good in some aspects, but so could the life of all men, women, and children be considered not good in some aspects. Unfortunately in the Republic of Gilead, the new option for women wasn’t really an option at all, and it wasn’t better but worse.