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Final Chapters of The Handmaid’s Tale

The most interesting part of this final section of the novel for me was the “Historical Notes,” where professors discuss and analyze Gilead far in the future. It was interesting to me that the professor speaking warns the audience not to judge the people of this time period too harshly. The people of Gilead were struggling with many different issues, and although the system they put in place was inhumane and corrupt, they were doing what they felt was a last resort or the only option to fix their failing society. Those who put this power structure in place lacked the knowledge to find a better alternative, and those that went along with it lacked the power or ability to do anything else or resist. 

I think this is very applicable to how we look at history today. Although we should be looking back at history to learn from it to not repeat the mistakes of the past, people tend to judge what are now considered to be the “bad” parts of history. Placing too much judgement on the actions of some in the past does not progress society further, nor is it completely justified. People do what they believe is the best option at the time given the knowledge available to them, or they follow along with what others tell them to do due to a lack of power or ability to do anything else. This is not to their own fault completely, just as it is not the fault of the people of Gilead. 

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4 Comments

  1. Nicolette Romley Nicolette Romley

    The historical notes were very relevant to this class. We often talk about how mistakes of the past were made and how we have managed to now deem those acts as mistakes when they were seemingly acceptable at the time. There is no way to put ourselves in the shoes of those that lived in a different time as us. I agree that we cannot judge Gilead as harshly because everyone in a society of oppression is negatively affected by oppression in some way, even the oppressors.

  2. David Ataide David Ataide

    I liked your comments about the historical notes. I felt it was kind of breaking the fourth wall in that way to read about the future of Gilead and how they reflect on the past, while sitting in a class where we reflect on America’s past through atrocities highlighted in books such as Beloved. If anything the ending of this book teaches us to not simply accept the times for how they are and not to think that there is nothing we can do. There is always something that people can do.

  3. Sara Messervey Sara Messervey

    I’m sorry, but I *strongly* disagree with this interpretation. The moral of this story is not to say that Gilead was justified in producing sexual slavery. If anything, it’s to say that we are too lenient in our consideration of the past. Slavery was not ok. Raping women was not ok. Genocide was not ok. Morality is not *that* culturally relative. This book demonstrates how we erase the violence and brutality inflicted by our ancestors and fail to learn from these mistakes because we fail to carry the weight of them. Instead we pretend that time creates a sharp division that prevents us from ever going back to that. But they *did* go back. And in our society we continue to take steps back with women’s rights (not to mention POC, LGBTQ+, and immigrant rights as well). We need to learn NOT to justify the past and to truly consider the narrative’s like Offred that account the horrors and perspectives that have long been erased throughout history to make ourselves feel better. None of this is OK.

  4. Katherine Fell Katherine Fell

    I think that the perspective that time and history play a heavy hand in how a work of culture is received depending on the time period. For instance, the Historical Notes at the end of the novel carry a different relevance because of the decades of history that have occurred since The Handmaid’s Tale was originally published.

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