Are there any questions?
To some, this might just be an ordinary statement of inquiry. But to those who have read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, these four words carry too much weight.
Originally published in 1985, Atwood’s dystopian novel takes readers to the fictional Republic of Gilead. It follows Offred, a Handmaid assigned to a high-ranking commander and his wife. In an age of declining births, Handmaids are valued only for their capability to procreate. They are held prisoners — stripped off their past and future. They are forbidden to read, write, or interact with the outside world. They are meant only to bear children for their assigned commander and failure to do so warrants death.
The book ends with Professor Pieixoto’s final line, Are there any questions? To me this seems a rhetorical question asked not to get an answer but instead to emphasize a point. It forces us to question our role as witnesses, both of Offred’s tale and of our own history of oppression.
Do we forget and stay silent? Do we remain neutral and indifferent? Do we stand up and fight?
There is more than one kind of freedom,” said Aunt Lydia. “Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.
― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
You! Yes, you. As The Handmaid’s Tale becomes grimly relevant these days, would you ask a question?