The Handmaid's Tale Historical Notes on The Handmaid's Tale Summary
This section is described in a headnote as a "partial transcript
of the proceedings of the Twelfth Symposium on Gileadean Studies"
(Historical Notes.1). The year is 2195. Two people speak.
first is Professor Moon, who welcomes everyone to the symposium and says
this historical period is important because of the ways in which it
shaped their world.
She makes some administrative announcements
about symposium events, alluding to other historic moments that would
have taken place after the events in the Handmaid's story.
She introduces Professor Pieixoto and gives his credentials, then he speaks.
Professor Pieixoto thanks everyone and says he's going to talk about The Handmaid's Tale,
which they have been treating like a manuscript but is actually a
series of tape recordings that had been hidden in a footlocker. The
tapes were retrieved from a station on the Underground Femaleroad, in
what used to be Bangor, Maine.
The professor alludes to other, similar memoirs, but says this one is particularly valuable.
and another professor transcribed the voice on the tapes. The story was
haphazard and out of order. They determined that it was not a forgery:
the tapes were authentic and had been made at least 150 years ago.
Pieixoto argues that the narrator made these tapes not as the events
were happening, but afterward. He says it would help if they knew her
identity, but she could have been anyone. The house where the tapes were
discovered was a dead end.
All they could find out about the
narrator was that she was in the first group of women made to be
Handmaids. He offers a scientific description of how fertile women were
allocated to powerful men in the Gileadean society.
A combination of illness and pollution had led to infertility problems.
Pieixoto says people in Gilead used Biblical ideas to reinforce and
support their new society. He briefly explains why the society was
Then he discusses the problem of names in the
society. None of the Handmaids' names reveal their identity, but
potentially their Commanders'. The other names the narrator used were
The professor did research to try to track
down the narrator's Commander. From his powerful status and the use of
"Fred," combined with diary readings from someone named Wilfred Limpkin,
the professor thinks the man could have been one of two men: Frederick
Waterford or B. Frederick Judd.
Both of the men were extremely
powerful and dangerous, devising many of the ceremonies for the society.
One of them possibly had connections to the President's assassination.
professor then speaks briefly about some of those ceremonies. He adds
details about how women were selected to act as Aunts and what that
involved. It was all deliberately calculated to keep larger populations
He says neither of these men were married to a
woman named Serena Joy, but one of them – Waterford – had a wife who had
been on television. Waterford was put on trial for having books and
supporting a subversive, which fits the narrator's Commander's
Professor Pieixoto says "Nick" could have been the
subversive, and that he was probably a member of Mayday. He might have
also been an Eye and was probably there to spy on the Commander.
professor says that's about as far as they can speculate. The narrator
didn't get the kind of material that would have helped them more closely
analyze the Republic of Gilead, and they don't know what happened to
her. Even if she did get out, the trail is cold, and she didn't take her
tapes with her. The professor says it's unlikely Luke would still have
Professor Pieixoto states that they also can't tell
why Nick helped the narrator or what his help meant, whether the
narrator was pregnant, and if saving her doomed him.
The professor ends his talk by saying they should be glad for the little history they've gotten. Then he asks for questions.