Interpreting the Handmaid's Tale

657 Words Apr 29th, 2008 3 Pages
Interpreting The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale is distinguished by its various narrative and structural divisions. It contains four different levels of narrative time: the pre-Revolution past, the time of the Revolution itself, the Gileadean period, and the post-Gileadean period (LeBihan 100). In addition, the novel is divided into two frames, both with a first person narrative. Offred's narrative makes up the first frame, while the second frame is provided by the Historical Notes, a transcript of a lecture given by a Cambridge professor. The distinctions in structure and narrative perspective parallel the separation of Gileadean residents into different social roles.

Offred's narrative is mainly of the Gileadean period, but
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In the instance of women in the novel, this power comes from their indispensable role in the propagation of society. As Offred tells her story, she incorporates the stories of other women into her narrative. Her voice "multiplies to become the voice of women rather than the voice of a single narrator" (133). Thus, The Handmaid's Tale isn't just Offred's protest against her oppressive condition, but the collective protest of every woman.

The Historical Notes comprising the second frame of the novel provide an important shift in perspective. The Notes are a transcript of a lecture given by the professor, Darcy Pieixoto, at an academic symposium on Gileadean Studies two hundred years after Gilead has become ancient history. The reader finds out that Pieixoto and his colleague are the ones responsible for the transcription and editing of the handmaid's story. (As it turns out, Offred's account is not actually written, but recorded onto cassette tapes). Pieixoto treats Offred's story in a scientific and detached manner. For him, her account is merely a resource for gaining knowledge of the former Gilead Republic.

The shift from Offred as narrator to Pieixoto as narrator does two things. First, it signifies Offred's inability to make her voice heard; the voice of the male narrator in the last part of the novel threatens to drown out Offred's voice and the significance of her autobiography. Secondly, it leaves readers with the challenge of

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