Handmaid's Tale

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“This is a reconstruction. All of it a reconstruction…” Chapter 23 Is the narrative of The Handmaid’s Tale merely a reconstruction of events?

At first, The Handmaid’s Tale (1986) may purely seem like a reconstruction of events. However, when examined more closely the reader can see that Atwood has used many narrative and poetic techniques. Each of these devices develop the novel into so much more than just a simple reconstruction of events, it becomes a precise and planned piece of work; a documented life experience that slowly unfolds. The reader becomes involved in the story and in Offred’s life; they go through her pain, suffering and occasional joy and trusts what she is telling them to be the truth. Yet, when the novel comes to an end, the reader is presented with another set of text, the ‘Historical Notes’. This epilogue is a record of a lecture, lead by Professor Pieixoto, about The Handmaid’s Tale. It comes to light that Offred had actually recorded this diary-like story on cassette tapes and the historian, Professor Pieixoto, had to meticulously piece it together. The Historical Notes do not serve as an answer to what happened to Offred. Ironically it does not answer any of the questions the reader may have, although this is the intent of the arrogant Professor Pieixoto. It instead provokes more questions from the reader and it questions the authenticity of the story. Thus, the reader may doubt the narrative of Offred. The novel is indeed partly a reconstruction of events, but it is also a recording of a women’s journey; a journey through her emotions, experiences and facts that she has learnt on the way.

The Historical Notes are transcripts of the proceedings of a seminar about The Handmaid’s tale. Professor MaryAnn Crescent Moon and a Historian, Professor Pieixoto, held this seminar. Pieixoto’s presentation of The Handmaid’s Tale reveals his thoughts on the subject; he believes the tale to be a literal reconstruction of events. Although he does not clearly state this, it’s hinted throughout the seminar. He often undermines Offred’s tale, “I hesitate to use the word document” (p. 295), showing his beliefs that it is an unimportant piece of history, that it doesn’t even deserve to be called a document. Thus indicating his ignorance and attitude toward women, the fact that a woman has documented this stage throughout history, somehow makes it less important; not worth his time. Pieixoto’s disrespect towards women is seen again in many parts of the seminar; he continues to make sexist jokes, “’The Underground Femaleroad’, since dubbed by some of our historical wags ‘The Underground Frailroad’” (p. 295). He repeatedly refers back to his superior, who is in fact a woman, in a patronising and arrogant manner. The way in which he talks about Professor MaryAnn is very surprising as she is clearly above him in the hierarchy, “I must also remind our keynote speaker [Pieixoto] – although I am sure it is not necessary – to keep within his time period” (p. 294). This statement she made to Pieixoto, reinforces her power, reminding him that he is in her control. However, this reminder has no effect, his chauvinistic and arrogant ways precede him. Moreover, indicating that Atwood suggests female rights and power should never be complacent.

Nevertheless, as much power and control Professor MaryAnn holds over him, he still manages to find control over women. Pieixoto was in charge of organising Offred’s cassettes, the recordings of her journey, “Thus it was up to Professor Wade and myself to arrange the blocks of speech in the order which they appeared to go; but as I have said elsewhere, all such arrangements are based on some guesswork and are to be regarded as approximate” (p. 296). The fact Pieixoto was left to organise the cassettes is slightly alarming and ironic, as it is a tale about a women’s struggle to survive in a male dominated society, now being arranged by men. Pieixoto’s statement that the...
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