Notice that I first ask you to read the “epilogue” at the end of the novel? There’s a reason for it. If you haven’t yet, please read “Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale,” pp. 299-311, at the end ofÂ The Handmaid’s Tale.
To be honest, I find this portion of the novel to be the most chilling and viciously scary part of the novel, because it positions us, the reader, as historians attending an academic conference in 2195 (that’s the year), listening to an academic discussion of the history of Gilead and the writer of The Handmaid’s Tale. These are similar to academic conferences on, say, the history of the Nazi Socialist Government of Germany pre- World War II or the Post Viá»‡t Nam War era discussions of the My Lai massacre. Atwood pushes us to question ways in which we apologize for the past and treat history as if it’s something we should observe without emotional attachment. She’s asking us to question the nature of academic inquiry and writing . . .
For this Discussion Post
Explain your understanding of the assigned section ofÂ The Handmaid’s Tale, “Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale,” and why Atwood positions this chapter at the end of the text rather than at the beginning. Having read this section first, what perspectives do you bring to your reading of the rest ofÂ The Handmaid’s Tale.
Next, discuss the contrasting formation of ofFred’s identity that we gain from “Historical Notes onÂ The Handmaid’s Tale,” and from the first 75 pages ofÂ The Handmaid’s Tale. Some questions to think about:Â
1. Why is ofFred’s name, ofFred? What is ofFred’s real name? How do you know?
2. In what ways is a name tied to our identity? Can that be removed?
3. Offred experiences a revolution, a complete change of government that’s completely outside of her control. Who has the control? How are women, like Offred, treated in Gilead? What freedoms/rights do they have?
To support your answers, make sure to provide evidence, meaning quotes, that demonstrate where in the text you’re seeing all of this occur.
Initial posts should be 250-300 words.
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the
home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food
markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because
women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a
month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in
an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued
only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before,
when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she
played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of
her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone nowâ€¦
The Handmaidâ€™s Tale
Original title: The Handmaidâ€™s Tale
Margaret Atwood, 1985
Digital editor: Titivillus
ePub base r1.2
For Mary Webster and Perry Miller
And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob,
Give me children, or else I die.
And Jacobâ€™s anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in Godâ€™s stead, who hath withheld
from thee the fruit of the womb?
And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also
have children by her.
â€“ Genesis, 30:1-3
But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts,
and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposalâ€¦
â€“Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal
In the desert there is no sign that says, Thou shalt not eat stones.
â€“ Sufi proverb
We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished
wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly
played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the
nets were gone. A balcony ran around the room, for the spectators, and I
thought I could smell, faintly like an afterimage, the pungent scent of sweat,
shot through with the sweet taint of chewing gum and perfume from the
watching girls, felt-skirted as I knew from pictures, later in mini-skirts, then
pants, then in one earring, spiky green-streaked hair. Dances would have been
held there; the music lingered, a palimpsest of unheard sound, style upon
style, an undercurrent of drums, a forlorn wail, garlands made of tissue-paper
flowers, cardboard devils, a revolving ball of mirrors, powdering the dancers
with a snow of light.
There was old sex in the room and loneliness, and expectati
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