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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: English
  • Essay length: 1509 words

The epilogue is a transcript of a symposium held in 2195, in a university in the Arctic.

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Historical Notes Overview... The epilogue is a transcript of a symposium held in 2195, in a university in the Arctic. Gilead is long gone, and Offred's story been published as a manuscript titled The Handmaid's Tale. Her story was found recorded on a set of cassette tapes locked in an army footlocker in Bangor, Maine. The main part of the epilogue is a speech by an expert on Gilead named Professor Pieixoto. He talks about authenticating the cassette tapes. He says tapes like these would be very difficult to fake. The first section of each tape contains a few songs from the pre-Gileadean period, probably to camouflage the actual purpose of the tapes. The same voice speaks on all the tapes, and they are not numbered, nor are they arranged in any particular order, so the professors who transcribed the story had to guess at the intended chronology of the tapes. Pieixoto warns his audience against judging Gilead too harshly, because such judgments are culturally biased, and he points out that the Gilead regime was under a good deal of pressure from the falling birth rate and environmental degradation. He says the birth rate declined for a variety of reasons, including birth control, abortions, AIDS, syphilis, and deformities and miscarriages resulting from nuclear plant disasters and toxic waste. The professor explains how Gilead created a group of fertile women by criminalizing all second marriages and non-marital relationships, confiscating children of those marriages and partnerships, and using the women as reproductive vessels.


Punishing the relatives of escaped Handmaids was done secretly to minimize bad publicity in foreign lands. He says Nick's motivation cannot be understood fully; he reveals that Nick was a member both of the Eyes and of Mayday, and that the men he called were sent to rescue Offred. In the end, Pieixoto says, they will probably never know the real ending of Offred's story. The novel ends with the line, "'Are there any questions?'" Style... ==> "Iran and Gilead: Two Late Twentieth Century Monotheocracies, as Seen Through Diaries" Professor Pieixoto's talk is prefaced with a list of the studies he is famous for. One is a comparison of the Iranian government of the late twentieth century to the Republic of Gilead. Iran's conservative Islamic revolution involved demodernisation and severe restrictions on the freedoms of women. ==> Claiming Biblical precedent, Gilead "replaced the serial polygamy common in the pre-Gilead period with the older form of simultaneous polygamy practiced in the Old Testament times." Pieixoto notes that Gilead incorporated polygamous and racist practices of the society that preceded it into its tenants. ==> "When power is scarce, a little of it is tempting" This quote summarises the drive behind every character in the book, all the characters actions can ultimately be traced back to their desire for power. Themes... Analysis... After this ending, with its leap into the unknown, the epilogue follows.


Furthermore, the professor and the conference attendees seem insufficiently moved by Offred's plight. They discuss her as a chip in a reproductive game, belittling her tale as the crumbs of history, and openly prizing a few printed pages from the Commander's computer over her master tale of suffering. This belittling of a woman's life and glorification of a man's computer suggests the patriarchal leanings of this new society. Offred and her trauma seem remote to this group, but Atwood's novel urges us to think that such a fate is not far off, but imaginable, for societies like ours and like Professor Pieixoto's, which fancy themselves progressive but hold seeds of patriarchal oppression. The academics' complacency and self-satisfaction seems dangerous. The closing line-"Are there any questions?"-Gives the story a deliberately open-ended conclusion. The end of The Handmaid's Tale only marks the beginning of a discussion of the issues the story raises. How do we as reader feel about the events/ people... The Historical Notes change the readers' whole perception of the book. They also provide the novel a definite sense of realism, a sense that Gilead could in fact exist...a testament to this would be a cult which exists in middle America which has adopted strong Christian beliefs and coupled them with the notion that a wife must pander to every whim and need of her husband, perhaps a phenomenon that Atwood was aware of when she was writing the novel. ?? ?? ?? ?? Christopher Beeton The Handmaid's Tale: Historical Notes 02/11/2003 I

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