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"The Handmaid's Tale": "Historical Notes" and Documentary Subversion

Dominick M. Grace
Science Fiction Studies
Vol. 25, No. 3 (Nov., 1998), pp. 481-494
Published by: SF-TH Inc
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4240726
Page Count: 14
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Abstract

The "Historical Notes" appearing at the end of Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" have been the subject of repeated critical scrutiny. Commentaries have suggested that the world of 2195 is far from an eutopian alternative to the dystopia of Gilead; indeed, commentators consistently note the sexism of Pieixoto and suggest that the conditions that led to the founding of Gilead in the first place still exist in the world of 2195. The world of 2195 is one in which women once again assume positions of authority and in which Native North American peoples are evidently part of the dominant culture. It might appear, therefore, an eutopian alternative to Gilead, and perhaps even to the world of today, if we can accept at face value that the sexist and racist assumptions prevalent in Gilead (and today) have been eradicated; but we cannot. Instead, we are forced by the inconsistencies and disjunctions created by Pieixoto's deeply flawed analysis of Offred's account to question the documentary method itself as a valid arbiter of truth.

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