The Handmaid's Tale (The Handmaid's Tale, #1) The Handmaid's Tale discussion


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The "Historical Notes" epilogue -- necessary?

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Stephen Welch I read The Handmaid's Tale for the first time, and while I liked it the epilogue ("Historical Notes") disappointed me. I would have much preferred to leave Offred's voice resonating, at it should have, with the end of chapter 46.

Did anyone else have a similar problem?


Kristina Seleshanko I agree. I actually think the whole ending is weak, though I love the book otherwise.


Stephen Welch Yeah, I felt the same way. Leaving the ending open ... not knowing whether Offred escaped or was killed ... would have been much stronger, imho.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... I agree also. I did read some analysis of the book and that helped me like it a bit better but I still would have enjoyed the book more without it.


message 5: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim Swike I always enjoy Historical notes, being a History Professor and lover of History.


Gmaharriet While I laughed at the very last sentence, and I don't think there was any other way to include that sentence, I do think it could have done without the final chapter and it would have been an improvement. I wonder, though, if I'd have believed it truly was the end, and I'd have wondered if a sequel would be forthcoming someday. If the author hadn't included the last chapter, she might still be receiving letters from new readers asking if she was planning more.


Rebecca I actually thought the historical notes gave some closure, if it had left off with just Offred's journal it would have felt unfinished. Even though we don't know exactly what happened to her, we at least know what happened to the society and why it ended up that way. Although I do agree it was written a bit awkwardly.


message 8: by Samantha (last edited Jan 09, 2018 08:01AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Samantha I found the ending to be the most chilling part about the book.

The story concludes with a Man delivering a speech questioning a woman's voice. From a historian's perspective, this is completely understandable because you do have to consider a source's context, authenticity and place in the greater scheme of what is known about a time period. However, after reading a story about women being abused in such a way, I can't imagine that this choice was unconsciously made by Atwood.

Further, in the course of his speech, the man makes light of this horrible time making sexual jokes and, also, saying that we cannot pass judgment on the people of these times because we were not there ourselves to understand how dire the situation was. I do not have the book in front of me, but I believe he received applause for this comment. (Don't quote me on that. I'll have to check the book...) However, I believe we can pass judgement on the past... for instance, slavery is bad. That does not mean that as academics we do not seek to understand why it occurred/s. The professor's simple dismissal reeks of rape apologist discourse.

I think that without this ending, it would have lacked closure as others pointed out, but also it would have detracted from the poignancy of the novel.


Randy One the best books I have ever read. Reminds me of 1984 and Darkness At Noon. Most relevant especially nowadays.


Jennifer Samantha wrote: "I found the ending to be the most chilling part about the book.

The story concludes with a Man delivering a speech questioning a woman's voice. From a historian's perspective, this is completely ..."


I agree, I think the Historical Notes bit made it more real somehow. Instead of it being a work of fiction it really drove the point it was trying to make home.
We, real people, are like this. This does happen. This can happen.


message 11: by Gary (last edited Jan 30, 2018 04:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Having some sort of introduction to set the tone for the story and present it as "true" is a pretty standard literary technique. The characters in The Heart of Darkness are being told that story while sitting on a boat safe on the Thames. Lolita starts off with a Foreward from Humbert Humbert's lawyer after the "manuscript" is released following his (and Delores') death. Frankenstein is all being told to the captain of an ice-locked ship who rescues the doctor. The Name of the Wind all takes place in a tavern.... A bunch of those Anne Rice vampire books all have double sets of quotes around the dialogue to note that it's all supposedly being spoken into a tape recorder or some such thing. Etc.

The conceit of Atwood's story is that the equivalent of that "setup" happens at the end, which I think is different enough from many others that for some folks it might track like it isn't necessary. And, strictly speaking, it isn't. At least, not any more than are those others. Like so much of the novel, it seems to me that she was playing around with the conventions of literature while telling her story. Offred breaks her narration at a couple of points, for instance, and says flat out that events didn't really occur the way she first described them... and then gives the real account. (I'm thinking of her sexual encounters with Nick there.) These are all things that are meant to convey a sense of verisimilitude. A "truthiness" Steven Colbert might say, satirically.

The scholarly bit at the end is meant to have a similar effect, though I guess folks just raising this question about the need for it casts some doubt on how effectively it does that. Personally, it didn't stand out as odd to me in any of my readings of the book, but I first read it in an English Lit class in which a very similar detached/academic discussion about the book was happening as is going on in that content, so it didn't seem at all unusual to me in that context. I wonder if it were read first if it would stand out for other readers. Maybe something to keep in mind for a reread....


message 12: by Dylan (last edited Apr 07, 2018 06:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dylan Law I appreciated the epilogue as it explained how this Tale became known. Once I noticed that Offred was writing in the past tense, I hoped an explanation would be given how she was able to enter a safe enough environment to be able to recount her tale.

I agree that having a man question and dissect Offred's tale further stresses the novel's point. I read the latter part of the novel with so much tension that this section startled me. After reading the lecturer's 'tale / tail' pun, I noticed an angry defensiveness boil up within me as the scholar invalidated the immense struggle of women in the Gileadean Era in a single short lecture.


message 13: by Tony (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony Sullivan The supercilious academic discussion at the end is particularly off-putting after the reader has been immersed in the tension of Offred's life and the urgency and desperation of her struggles. Perhaps the epilogue draws on the author's feelings about academia today. It can also be read as depressing pessimism - a suggestion that the only options for society are authoritarianism and liberal banality.


Lauren.Bastian I would disagree. I think the epilogue makes the story all the more poignant because it shows how we, as humans, perceive such as story once it becomes history. There's a startling contrast between the academic analysis and the heart-wrenching narrative of Offred. One particular thing I noticed was that even though Offred's tale depicts a horrific period of the fictional history, it is almost discredited by the scholars. This contrast holds a mirror to our society and the way we handle such dark periods of history. We sometimes find it easier to deny and discredit the past rather than find a way to accept it, right wrongs, and move forward.


Randy Brilliantly stated


message 16: by T.R. (new) - rated it 5 stars

T.R. Rankin Lauren.Bastian wrote: "I would disagree. I think the epilogue makes the story all the more poignant because it shows how we, as humans, perceive such as story once it becomes history. There's a startling contrast between..."
I love what you wrote and I completely agree. History becomes a story to be critiqued and picked apart. A thesis to gain an accolade. Somehow we forget that these people lived, and died. That the said critics will too be merely research for the scholar, a tale, nothing more.


Randy I like the epilogue. It completes the story.


Roger Carter Stephen wrote: "I read The Handmaid's Tale for the first time, and while I liked it the epilogue ("Historical Notes") disappointed me. I would have much preferred to leave Offred's voice resonating, a..."

I agree completely. While I found the book brilliant, that epilogue wrecked the whole effect for me.


message 19: by Alon (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alon Bajayo Hi, I loved this book. Now I am ready to see the show...


Melissa Ramirez This book was a middle-of-the-road one for me. I can appreciate its important and disturbing themes but I feel like if the narration (or more aptly, writing style) had been a little different, it maybe would've worked better for me. The epilogue/historical notes was a point of confusion for me, if I'm being honest.
The edition I read came with an 'introduction to the text' in addition to the historical notes, and so it took me a good few pages till I realized the historical notes is in fact meant to be part of the story. I had thought it was some kind of reproduction of a university lecture, on the book!
I agree thought that leaving Offred's tale so abruptly, (at least to me) open to interpretation was chilling, and should have been left alone.


Daniel Griffin I quite enjoyed the epilogue. Raised the story from just Offred's personal experience to a wider global issue. You spend so long in Offred's head and living a very personal experience and that is then yanked away and replaced with a cold analysis of the situation that someone completely unrelated had.


message 22: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma Stephen wrote: "I read The Handmaid's Tale for the first time, and while I liked it the epilogue ("Historical Notes") disappointed me. I would have much preferred to leave Offred's voice resonating, a..."
The epilogue is important to see the story from a new perspective. You see what it's like as it's happening and how it affects her on a personal level which allows you to experience it as someone who lived in the time but, as the information available to her is quite limited, you don't get an objective view of it as someone with all the information looking in from the outside like you do in the epilogue, whereas in the epilogue you can view the events clearly but it does not have nearly the same emotional impact of reading the story in her words.


Stephen Welch Good points, I can see what you mean. It's written well, I didn't have a problem with it in that regard ... just that it came across as something that was "added on" at the end and jarred me out of Offred's narrative.

I guess the main issue I have with the epilogue is that it point to a "happier ending" in the eventual future, with the fall of the Gilead regime, etc. This is fine and well, and is what we would all hope would be true, but it really blunts the moral impact of not having that reassurance at the end of Offred's story.


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