Memorable Mondays is a meme that focuses on spotlighting our favorite quotes from books we’ve read.
This week’s quote comes from The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
I have been thinking a lot about memory lately. I have been thinking about the reliability of eyewitnesses, how everything is the same and absolute until someone observes it. Once something is observed you have to take human fallibility into account.
So this quote from The Handmaid’s Tale explaining that Offred’s story is just that, her story, spoke to me.
The start of Chapter 23 begins:
This is a reconstruction. It’s a reconstruction now, in my head, as I lie flat on my single bed rehearsing what I should or shouldn’t have said, what I should or shouldn’t have done, how I should or shouldn’t have played it. If I ever get out of here–
Let’s stop there, I intend to get out of here. It can’t last forever. Other have thought such things, in bad times before this, and they were always right, they did get out one way or another, and it didn’t last forever. Although for them it may have lasted all of the forever they had.
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, the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances; too many gestures, which can never be fully described, too many flavor, in the air or on the tongue, half-colors too many.
What I love about this passage is not just that it talks about how inexact memory can be and captures it perfectly, but Offred’s digression in the middle, about getting out of Gilead.
Atwood’s prose reads like thoughts and that’s what I love about it. Offred’s tone and digressions are honest and unyielding. She’s strong, but she also admits that her story isn’t the whole truth, because there is no way she can know the whole truth. It is just her account.
Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale? What do you think of this quote? Do you have a favorite quote concerning memory? Share your thoughts in the comments below.