The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale Reading, Writing, and Storytelling Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
When I get out of here, if I'm ever able to set this down, in any form, even in the form of one voice to another, it will be a reconstruction then too, at yet another remove. It's impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out. (23.3)
Here the narrator provides an excuse for why her story isn't always the absolute truth or "exactly the way it was." She's already creating a "reconstruction" by telling this story, so if she wrote it later it would just be another one. Her statement "if I'm ever able to set this down" is tricky in light of the book's ending, which says that everything we just read has been transcribed from an audiotape. So is what we're reading what's already "set down"? Or did the narrator write it elsewhere, later? Should this be proof of her escape or that she didn't make it?
This is what she says, whispers, more or less. I can't remember exactly, because I had no way of writing it down. I've filled it out for her as much as I can: we didn't have much time so she just gave the outlines. [...] I've tried to make it sound as much like her as I can. It's a way of keeping her alive. (38.37)
The narrator explains why she tells this part of Moira's story in Moira's voice, rather than in the third person, as she told others' stories earlier in the book. She says this is "a way of keeping [Moira] alive" and of helping her imagine Moira is with her again.
In fact I don't think about anything of the kind. I put it in only afterwards. Maybe I should have thought about that, at the time, but I didn't. As I said, this is a reconstruction. (23.57)
Here, the narrator undermines the "truthiness" of her narrative. She tells us she did something and then takes it back: "I don't think about anything of the kind. I put it in only afterwards." This admission also takes us out of the present moment of the narrative, making it seem less real and immediate.