On the ending of The Handmaid’s Tale (the book, not the show, but maybe also the show)

The Handmaid’s Tale is out on Hulu now.  I haven’t watched it yet (still trying to recover from Fortitude season 1*), but I’m stoked to watch it.  As our regular reader knows, I read The Handmaid’s Tale book two months ago.  The comment I made in my book journal (about the subversiveness of playing Scrabble) was a bit flippant, but sometimes that I how I cope with complex emotions and thought processes.

Okay, now, if you listened to our “We’re Back” podcast,** you might recall our discussion of the objectivity/subjectivity debate in history.  So take that, and then apply it to the ending of The Handmaid’s Tale (book).  I don’t mean the end of Offred’s tale.  If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m actually talking about: the symposium where they discuss Offred’s tale.

During our podcast discussion about bias in history research, I wanted to make a point how the final chapter of The Handmaid’s Tale was extra infuriating in light of reading A People’s History, but I didn’t quite have the thoughts fully meshed and threshed at the time.  And just when I was about to pull it all together (the cruelty of blithely dismissing one person’s struggle as a mere artifact of a larger historical movement that is studied with “objective” (and skeptical/dismissive) distance), this essay is published on biblioklept:

The “Historical Notes” on The Handmaid’s Tale are an example of a particular trope I generally dislike—the “expert shows up at the end and explains everything” device. However, Atwood’s final chapter is successful, and perhaps even essential to the novel’s critique of patriarchy and of how institutions tell and what they tell. The key, of course, is to recognize the layers of irony in this “explainer” chapter, in which a male authority arrives and asks all the wrong questions about Offred and criticizes some of her narrative choices. Even though he’s an expert on her text, he manages to miss that she’s woven her true name into the story. It’s right there at the end of the first chapter.

I recommend reading the whole essay (of course).  And I’m curious to see if we’ll see this at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale TV series includes this extra level of meta–if it stays true to the book–because it is one hell of a whammy.  An extra infuriating whammy.

* For christ’s sake, please watch this show.

** And, folks, we are definitely back.  Our podcast publishing schedule is haphazard, but we’re definitely recording episodes.

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