“We Learned to Whisper Almost Without Sound”:

Blurring the Boundary between Fiction and Fact in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale


  • Lorenzo Santi Università di Pisa




The Handmaid's Tale, Fact, Fiction, History, Dystopian-speculative fiction


The aim of this paper is to examine Margaret Atwood’s blurring of the boundary between fiction and fact as a key mechanism underpinning the literary construction of The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). By drawing on  Atwood’s statements concerning the documentary imprint of her dystopian-speculative novel, this discussion sheds light on the disguised references to historical figures, momentous events and phenomena which can be discerned throughout The Handmaid’s Tale. From Nazi Germany to Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Romania, passing through Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Iran or 1980s’ America, Atwood has hugely drawn inspiration from historical events and transfigured them in order to offer a memorable depiction of the futuristic state of Gilead. Reading The Handmaid’s Tale from this perspective will provide evidence of the novel’s capability to negotiate with the extratextual domain and deliver a powerful cautionary message.


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“We Learned to Whisper Almost Without Sound”:: Blurring the Boundary between Fiction and Fact in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. (2023). Synergies: A Journal of English Literatures and Cultures, 3. https://doi.org/10.4454/syn.v3.541