Explore the significance of the Historical Notes in light of the rest of the novel
The historical notes are an important part of the novel, they create an insight into Offred’s story objectively and the way in which it came about. We observe Offreds story outside Gilead with another time shift into the future. The historical notes provide the background information of Gilead which Offred did not explain and give some understanding on the enigma’s created within Offreds story. Most importantly the Historical Notes enable us to get a different perspective on the characters and Gilead.
The most significant interest in the Historical Notes is the way in which Offred managed to tell her story to us. We learn from Professor Piexoto that Offred recorded her story on tapes. The dive into the future is made aware by the fact that Professor Piexoto had to get a technician to ‘reconstruct a machine capable of playing tapes’, we understand that this is well into the future AD2195 to be exact and makes us question whether Gilead is meant to take place some time now within our time in the beginning of the 21st Century.
The truth that Offred recorded her story on tapes suggests that Nick did help Offred to escape Gilead. This is when we see that Nick was a good character and makes us feel good that he was a male within a society run by men who helped the women. We also assume that he may have rescued other women in the ommanders house hold. However it is also made aparant to us by Professor Piexoto that Nick may have been saving Offred for his own safety, as we know that ‘The penalties for unauthorized sexual activity with a Handmaid were severe’. Nick broke the Gileadian rules by having a relationship with Offred.
He may have known about the near capture of Ofglen and guessed Offred would be next. If Offred had been captured would she tell about Nick? Therefore the removal of Offred also saved himself, we are now again made unaware whether Nick was one of the men who did help women or who simply wanted to prevent his own capture of rebellion. Either way we are pushed to believe he saved her. We know that these tapes were formulated by a man; Proferssor Piexoto, which again makes us assume we are still reading the story from a mans point of view.
By a man putting together the tapes he is taking away that kast bit of control Offred had; the control of her thoughts and feelings, which is ironically what Offred could not control. There were ‘some thirty tapes in the collection all together’ and ‘were arranged in no particular order’ which shows the construction of the tapes had to be put together from Proffesor piexoto’s view, thgis may explain the non linear making of the story, and may also explain the time shift of Offreds life from past to present and present to past.
Most disturbing of the historical notes is Atwood has created a completely different view on Offreds story. We are extremely engaged by Offreds story with full sympathy and compassion however when converting to the historical notes we find Offreds experience discussed as nothing but a ‘story’ or a ‘tale’, no emotion is presented from the speaker toward Offred. We also see that the title takes away the very existence of her life and the experiences she went through.
Because the tapes title was ‘appended to it by Proffessor wade’, we see that Offred did not have any control over what meaning her document was. Although Professor Piexoto tries to suggest the title ‘The Handmaids Tale’ was produced for the ‘archaic vulgar signification of the word tail’ being the ‘bone… of contention’ in Gilead, we assume different, it simply suggests that Offreds story is a fairy ‘tale’ of an unnamed women ‘a Handmaid’. Before reading the converted tapes we are already meant to be under the impression that it is a story we are reading.
We see our emotional attachment to Offred and our complete trust in her is potentially shattered by the involvement of those who have studied her document. We assume ourselves through out the story that Offred is telling the truth, and this is because the relationship between the reader and Offred has grown through sympathy and likeness of her character and personality. The Historical Notes make us question the validity of the novel and make us question Offreds sincerity when telling the story.
When Professor Piexoto presents that she may be lying about some of her experiences it makes us slightly worried about the truth of Offreds story and almost angers us as she has lied because ‘neither Judd or Waterford was married to a women who was or ever had been known as Pam or Serena joy’. We are able to appreciate that Offred was unable to use real names to protect the ones she loves, and also could not use a real name for those around her, in fear of it being traced back to her.
Therefore all that assures us that she is telling the truth about Serena joy is that one of the women ‘worked as a television personality’ as Offred had suggested. We also find it disturbing that life has carried on without Offred as people are having fun and continuing with their every day lives. Crescent moons announcements at the beginning is a pure repartee of Offreds lack of freedom as they discuss going on outings and being free and having fun: ‘The fishing expedition will go forward tomorrow as planned’ and The nature walk and Outdoor Period costume sing-song have been rescheduled’.
This however is how Attwood wants us to feel, she is suggesting that so many awful things have happened in our history and we fail to observe understand and sympathize with it. Offreds story is observed simply as words on a tape. Although the Historical Notes create some enigma’s as to whether Offred is telling the truth, it does however clear many up for us and prove that in many circumstances Offred is in-fact very likely to be telling the truth. We have already recognised that Nick probably did free her because the tapes were found, when she would not have possibly been able to record them any where else but in some sort of a safe house.
In addition to this, Professor Piexoto makes us aware that the commander was ‘harbouring a subversive’ who we assume was Nick or Offred however from the story we are aware that nick smoked, and that he winked at Offred and that at some points before they gained a relationship he spoke to her: ‘Nice walk? ‘ he says which is very clearly against Gileadian rules, and marks him as a distinct rebel. We also know that Waterford had an ‘unauthorized collection of heretical pictorial and literary materials’ which supports Offreds account of the commander allowing her to read his collection of out’