The Handmaid’s Tale—“The Historical Notes”

Journal Assignment

1.      Read the following quotes from “The Historical Notes.”

“[Offred] was a patronymic, composed of the possessive preposition and the first name of the gentleman in question” (305).

“As I have said elsewhere, there was little that was truly original with or indigenous to Gilead: its genius was synthesis” (307).

  • How would you describe the diction of these sentences?
  • What do these sentences sound like (a.k.a.  Where would you be likely to hear sentence like these….. In what context might someone say something like this to you?)


2.      Read the italicized information on page 299 carefully, and note the date mentioned.  Put that together with clues from pages 300 and 305.  During what decade did Gilead begin?


3.      Re-read the italicized lines on page 299.  Given the information in these lines, what has happened to the society of Gilead?  What do you make of the names of the chair and the speaker?


4.      While reading the “Notes,” consider what we find out about Offred’s narrative in this speech.  How was The Handmaid’s Tale  created, preserved, and ultimately presented “for us” to “read?”


5.      Consider the 2nd quote listed in question 1.  What does it mean?  Be specific in your answer by drawing on the details the “keynote speaker” of the “Notes” give to the audience.


6.      And finally…. What’s the point?  Clearly (as you should have realized from question 2), these “Notes” are just another part of the fiction of this novel.  Why are they here?  What functions (note functionS is plural) do “The Historical Notes” serve in this book?