Notes on The Handmaid's Tale Themes

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The Handmaid's Tale Topic Tracking: Truth in Storytelling

Chapter 6

Truth in Storytelling 1: Aunt Lydia tells the future Handmaids that although aspects of the new way of life may seem atrocious they will eventually become ordinary. Offred recalls this statement while viewing six executed doctors hanging on the Wall. This is an explicit suggestion that accepted views/stories should be questioned.

Chapter 7

Truth in Storytelling 2: Offred wishes to be telling a story, and yet she has no audience and she has no control over the outcome because she wishes to tell the truth. She wants control and she wants to affect an audience. All she can do is pretend and hope for a future audience.

Chapter 12

Truth in Storytelling 3: The evening of the Ceremony in which Offred is ritualistically inseminated, she describes her mental preparation as "composing herself." She tries to rewrite herself as she was rewritten at the Red Center. Atwood also implies the second meaning of compose, to calm.

Chapter 13

Truth in Storytelling 4: During Testifying, Janine tells the story of her rape and interprets it one way. After the Aunts and the other Handmaid's ridicule her she interprets it another way.

Chapter 18

Truth in Storytelling 5: Offred believes three contradictory stories about what has happened to Luke since the last time she saw him. She has created each story herself based upon what she believes could be possible based upon the limited information she has about the world of Gilead. Each story is simultaneously true because she lacks the knowledge of what really has happened to Luke. These contradictory beliefs allow her to be both suicidal and hopeful.

Chapter 23

Truth in Storytelling 6: At the end of the first night Offred spends in the Commander's study, he asks her for a kiss. She says she imagined stabbing him while acting out this semblance of love. Then she retracts this story and says she did not imagine it, though perhaps she should have.

Chapter 39

Truth in Storytelling 7: Offred learns from Moira that her mother has been sent to the Colonies. She had previously believed her to be dead. Now she must mourn for her death again.

Chapter 40

Truth in Storytelling 8: Offred describes her first arranged meeting with Nick twice. The first story emphasizes the sensual and the second story emphasizes their dialogue. She gives more credibility to the second rendition, but denies that either is true. She asserts that a reconstruction can never be really true.

Chapter 41

Truth in Storytelling 9: Offred wishes her story were different. She wishes is were a different story entirely and that she had told it better, but she also wishes to tell the truth. She says her painful, fragmented story does include the truth.

Truth in Storytelling 10: Offred believes different stories about her feelings for Nick at different times. Some days she thinks she is in love. Some days she thinks she has adapted to the conditions. Her truth fluctuates.

Chapter 43

Truth in Storytelling 11: Aunt Lydia tells the Handmaids that the man they are about to Particicute raped a pregnant women and killed her unborn child. This story inspires livid hatred in all the Handmaids. However, as we find out later, the man committed political crimes and never raped a woman.

Historical Notes

Truth in Storytelling 12: The goal of Pieixoto's talk is discuss verification of the Handmaid's Tale as a historical document. He and his colleagues are unable to ascertain the identity of the Handmaid or back up the specifics of her story. However, they can place the document within the time period suggested by its narrator and pinpoint the person who may have been the Commander she describes. Pieixoto describes the historian's job as grasping for echoes of an incomplete story.

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