Do the 'Historical Notes' in the Handmaid's Tale add to or detract from the novel?

Essay by Ripcurler May 2004

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The 'Historical Notes' featured at the end of the Handmaids tale explain several un-answered questions about the book. There has been much debate on the subject of the Historical notes and whether they add or detract from the novel.

The Historical notes take away the mystery of the book. The last line of the final chapter reads 'And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.' This is a really good ending to the novel. However, it isn't the true ending as the historical notes come afterwards. Personally, this ruins the ending's mystery as it creates a formal atmosphere at the end of the novel. Having the mystery taken away from the novel by the historical notes is quite a disappointment. Whilst reading the novel, I was expecting a very ominous ending as it was suggested in the way it was written as nothing was really concluded fully.

I did get this in part, although the Historical notes detract from the feeling of mystery. The historical notes are also in stark contrast to the narrative form in which the rest of the novel is written in. This means the ending is very much disembodied from the rest if the novel.

In saying that, the Historical notes do add some of their own mystery to the play. The final words of the Historical notes are addressed to the audience. 'Are there any questions?', In my opinion, this is a very obvious reference from Margaret Atwood that even the historical notes leaves the door wide open for individual interpretations of the novel. Not only is she asking if the audience have any questions, she's also asking whether the readers have any questions, in which case the answer would almost certainly be yes. Personally, I think this is what...