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Historical notes on The Handmaids Tale

Why do you think that Margaret Atwood included the historical notes in “The Handmaid’s Tale”? I believe that Margaret Atwood included the historical notes in “The Handmaid’s Tale” for a number of reasons. In my opinion, the central reason for the inclusion of the historical notes is to demonstrate to the reader where ideas for the novel originated. The first hint at where Atwood’s ideas came from is during Maryann Crescent Moon’s speech, as she says, “Iran and Gilead: Two Late Twentieth Century Monotheocracies”.

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This shows that Atwood largely based her novel on the Islamic revolution that took place in Iran in 1979. The revolution fiercely restricted women’s rights and their freedom, which is parallel to the events that occurred in “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Furthermore, in Pieixoto’s speech the reader is told, “Romania, for instance, had anticipated Gilead in the eighties by banning all forms of birth control”. This actually took place so we understand that the aspect of Atwood’s novel, which concerns fertility, and pregnancy is strongly related with this event.

I think it is very important that Atwood chose to base her novel on actual events that took place in the world because it emphasises that “The Handmaid’s Tale” is not solely a story, but is based on horrors that have occurred. This, therefore, illustrates the injustices that human beings are capable of. This leads on to the next possibility of why Margaret Atwood could have chosen to include the historical notes.

As the novel is based on real-life events, Atwood is warning the human race to recognise injustice and then fight against it before it is too late, and we have a recreation of the Islamic Revolution and the situation in Romania. The incorporation of the historical notes is a vast contrast in tone and style to the novel itself. In my opinion, Atwood included them to show that while the reader may be extremely interested in Offred’s testimony, her character and her emotions, Pieixoto is not at all. He is solely concerned with the history of Gilead and this is shown through his lighthearted tone of voice.

He calls his speech “a little chat”, which could show that he is not willing to spend a lot of his time pondering over Offred’s story because he does not consider it as important. In addition to this, Atwood included the historical notes to portray the fact that women will perpetually be considered as inferior to men, and will be belittled and looked down upon. This is predominantly shown through Pieixoto’s attitude towards Offred as he says “I am sure all puns were intentional… the archaic vulgar significance of the word tail”.

This quotation implies that Pieixoto solely sees Offred as a sex object. The reader is told that the audience applaud this comment (“Laughter, applause”). Therefore, the reader could be concerned about the morals of the audience if they find such a comment amusing. Furthermore, Pieixoto makes a number of sexist jokes such as referring to women as “The Underground Frailroad” which suggests that he views women as weak. Atwood may have included these sexist jokes to point out that this treatment of women is undoubtedly wrong, yet for some reason they are accepted in our society.

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