The Handmaid's Tale

Atwood's History: Framing Text and Political Context in The Handmaid's Tale 12th Grade

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is an epistolary fiction whose 300 pages allow the reader to induce the structure of an entire apocalyptic society through the story of one character. The novel explores the author’s speculation on how American society will evolve in the next century or two, creating a fictional historical account. The book concludes with a scene of a symposium of historians, set yet further in the future, at which the keynote speaker discusses a “soi-disant manuscript” of The Handmaid’s Tale that has been discovered (Atwood 300). This 12-page address allows the author to instigate contemplation of how history as a whole should be documented and studied: are narratives or raw facts, subjectivity or objectivity, more effective for understanding the past? Atwood provokes consideration of the context and significance of the book, the message in the epilogical “Historical Notes” section, and the process of academic research in today’s world.

It is important to note that The Handmaid’s Tale is itself a symbol. This can be determined by recognizing that every element of the book signifies something else, many of these symbols highlighted and explained by Atwood. For example, to emphasize the importance of female...

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