The Handmaid’s Tale

by: Margaret Atwood

Chapters 45–46 & Historical Notes on The Handmaid’s Tale

Pieixoto’s comment, that Gilead should not be judged too harshly because all such judgments are culturally conditioned, echoes and calls into question the moral relativism common among academics today. The novel has asked us to sympathize with Offred, and to judge Gilead evil, tyrannical, and soul-destroying. In that case, -Pieixoto’s appeal for understanding, and the applause that follows it, suggests that such moral ambivalence sows seeds for future evils. The professor and the conference attendees are insufficiently moved by Offred’s plight. They discuss her as a chip in a reproductive game, belittling her tale as the crumbs of history, and openly prizing a few printed pages from the Commander’s computer over her tale of suffering. This belittling of a woman’s life and glorification of a man’s computer suggests the patriarchal leanings of this new society. Offred and her trauma are remote to this group, but Atwood’s novel urges us to think that such a fate is not far off, but imaginable, for societies like ours and like Professor Pieixoto’s, which fancy themselves progressive but hold seeds of patriarchal oppression. The academics’ complacency and self-satisfaction seems dangerous. The closing line—“Are there any questions?”—gives the story a deliberately open-ended conclusion. The end of The Handmaid’s Tale begins a discussion of the issues the story raises.