The Handmaid’s Tale belongs to a science fiction genre of dystopian fiction. There is a combination of genres used here, for this is also a woman’s fictive autobiography and a novel of feminist resistance, which includes a critical history of North Americans ‘second wave’ feminism and a love story. The epigraph in this novel helps us to appreciate the issues, which we face as we are given the impression by reading the epigraph of it being a satire and we gather the new cruel environment which is created as Offred we see Offred is only allowed ‘one function: to breed.’ There are numerous dissimilar types of narrative techniques, which are exemplified in the dystopian novel as we distinguish that Offred is a self-conscious, discontinuous narrator. Throughout the novel Offred seems to revert to her flashbacks, which take us as a reader back to the past from present. We can perceive that the purpose of these narrative techniques is to connect the reader, as we want become puzzled and want to read on.
We encounter many dissimilar ways in which Offred changes her narrative techniques, as this is what makes the story complex, but engages us. We approach Offred’s narrative through Atwood’s own comments as a writer, ‘I’m an artist…and in any monolithic regime I would be shot’. This statement demonstrates that Offred is the teller of this novel. This novel is based on the idea of reconstruction, where ‘truth’ is the objective of Offred. Her narrative is a discontinuous one, which includes the time shifts, where we can identify the short scenes, which are used and its unfinished ending, ‘And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light’. We can spot that the discontinuous narrative is used to take us back to the past from the current present, as Offred is telling us the story of how she can recall it. Consequently, in the sense, this story is like a diary of Offred’s experience. This is one technique, which is shown throughout this novel, as we as a reader becomes confused at times, from what we are told from the past. We do not know any of this, but have to see how Offred relates this into the novel, ‘These bodies hanging on the wall are time travellers…They’ve come here from the past’. One of the first things we can identify is how the story shifts abruptly from one scene to another, so the narrators situation and past history are gradually revealed. As we read the novel, we are as a reader reconstructing the novel by placing the pieces together to form the puzzle, which is the story, so we piece the fragments with the details, this is revealed by the flashbacks.
At the beginning, we like the narrator are trapped in time. There are a few flashbacks as in chapter two Offred informs us that, ‘Luke told me that…he liked knowing about such details’. However, it is in ‘Night’ sections that the flashback technique is obvious, as this is Offreds ‘time out’ when she is free to wander and remember the past, ‘I can conjure them but hey are mirages’. This is one obvious narrative technique which as a reader makes us think of how Offred’s mind works and the people that she seems to miss, like her child which was taken away from her. It is here we gain a sense of Offred as a powerful personal presence with history as she takes us through events regarding Luke, and what her life was like and we can immediately observe how her pre-history was before she became a handmaid. This technique seems to be very effective as it takes us backwards in time. As a reader, we come to understand Offred’s condition of double vision, for she continually sees and judges the present through her memories of the past. This is revealed as she says ‘You’ll forgive give. I’m a refugee from the past, and like other refugees, I go over the customs…. I’ve left or been forced to leave behind’. The narrative technique shown up at this point indicates the complex ways that her memory works, as the present moment is not shown, but brings along traces off other past events.
This is illustrated in ‘Night’ as Offred is lying down and suddenly the implication regarding Nick is brought up from this present moment, as she ‘believes that Nick is lying face down in a thicket’. Offred tells stories of the women as well as her own. Some of these are fixed in the past and some even while she tells her own. The story of her feminist mother is from the past and is recaptured on the film along with her memory. We see that Offred wants to complete her story she tells Moira as when she finds her in Jezebels she continues telling Moira the story of her as a rebel, ‘I’ve filled her out for her as much as I can’: we didn’t have much time so I just gave her the outlines’. Hers is one of the unfinished stories embedded in this narrative, as Offred never sees Moira after this night. This technique explains to us how the past was brought up and how vital it was for Offred to inform Moira with what had been happening. Therefore, we can see that the past had been very important in the Gilead society. Offreds complex narrative techniques are shown as she continues to draw our attention to her story telling process, commenting on the way of telling shapes and changes real experience, and she gives reasons why she needs to tell her story. For Offred, storytelling is like a message she can send out to everyone, from her isolation, but she believes that one day it will be delivered, ‘A story is like a letter. Dear you, I’ll say. Just you, without a name…you can mean thousands’. This novel ends where Offred climbs into the van, but we see that the novel does not end here as this novel goes on, but in our head as this story end on a cliffhanger, which makes us think about what happened to Offred.
We as a reader become puzzled, but can make our own conclusion up. We can distinguish that Margaret Atwood is saying that Offred in the story is a self-conscious narrator who is simply stepping out the story and shows its limitations by how far it goes. We see the power of this story as Offred makes everything in this story have great relevance, meaning, this is why when she uses her flashbacks this is part of her narrative role, and this informs us of feelings and her emotions. The historical notes give us a background perspective of the story, as we find how Offred had recorded this into tapes when she was in great danger, and these were then chronologically sorted into order. The historical notes inform us the Gilead society and how it was under a good deal of pressure from the falling rate of birth rates and environmental degradation. Towards the end of the notes we are left with the closing line, ‘Are there any questions?’. This gives the story a deliberately open ended conclusion as the end of this novel marks the beginning of a discussion. Concluding this, I believe that there are many narrative techniques, which are contained within this novel, but the mains techniques are the flashbacks, which bring up the relevant stories in the past and fragmentary narrative, which tells us the story in pieces. This is how we find this story so complicated from the techniques used, but this engages the reader and makes us read more, as at times we become confused, but want to read on. I believe that these narrative techniques are very complicated and do not work in the beginning simply because as a reader we are not used to this, however as we progress we become use to the idea of this, and can understand the book. To me I think that this book was very successful and partly due to the narrative technique as I believe its very effective, as we are taken back and forth in time.