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The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

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Why did Atwood use cassette recordings instead of writing in her novel, and what does this symbolize in terms of Feminism or Postcolonialism?

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Margaret Atwood is very deliberate when it comes to choosing the method in which the story of the handmaids is told for later generations, and this ties into the feminist theme of the novel. After Offred’s main story is over, the epilogue of The Handmaid’s Tale offers us a look at how future society perceives the time of Gilead. A metal footlocker containing thirty cassettes is discovered, and it is one of several similar discoveries. We are given a transcript of “the proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies,” during which Professor James Darcy Pieixoto gives the audience his take on Offred’s story: she is to be taken with a grain of salt. The audience is not given the tapes to listen to; Pieixoto says the cassettes are “the type that became obsolete sometime in the eighties or nineties with the advent of the compact disc.” Rather than Offred's story being experienced by the audience firsthand, it is filtered through a man who does not necessarily believe the woman telling the story and who encourages his audience to view her the same way he does. He gives his evidence that her narrative is faulty:

Supposing, then, the tapes to be genuine, what of the nature of the account itself? Obviously, it could not have been recorded during the period of time it recounts, since, if the author is telling the truth, no machine or tapes would have been available to her, nor would she have had a place of concealment for them. Also, there is a certain reflective quality about the narrative that would to my mind rule out synchronicity. It has a whiff of emotion recollected, if not in tranquillity, at least post facto.

Had Offred’s story been written, it would have been more easily read by a vast number of people, but instead, people are not given the opportunity to digest a woman’s words on their own. Society has not learned from the great disaster that was Gilead.

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