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Literary Analysis “The Elegy for The Giant Tortises” Essay

Symbolizing Giant Tortoises

Most elegies are laments for somebody who has passed; however, Margaret Atwood creatively strays from the conventional ways of writing an elegy in, “The Elegy for The Giant Tortoises.” Atwood uses figurative language, such as, metaphors to reveal the theme: She also uses imagery. The theme of the poem is showing the reader how we honor the tortoises’ symbolic imagery, but not their physical existence. This reduces the tortoises to nothing but memories and taxidermy behind a glass barrier, presented in eternity’s museum. Utilizing metaphors and imagery the author affectively and creatively displays the theme of the poem.

In “The Elegy for The Giant Tortoises,” Atwood uses metaphors to manipulate the theme. The author compares the tortoises’ shells to “useless armour sadder than tanks and history” (Atwood lines 17&18). This line is referring to the tortoises’ “plodding past me in a straggling line awkward without water” (Atwood lines 14&15). Sadly, the reader is lead to believe that the tortoises’ are traveling to a holy relic to be honored; however, it is soon made clear that the “square glass altars” (Atwood line 21) are museum exhibits. The author is trying to stress how we put the tortoises on pedestals, like holy symbols when they are dead even though they are no longer symbols of living animals.

Another way Atwood reveals the theme to the reader is by implementing imagery into the poem. The author depicts an image of the tortoises by writing, “their small heads pondering from side to side” (Atwood lines 16&17). The author is explaining the elegance of the tortoises even when they are on a journey to a not so, symbolic museum display. Atwood also describes the tortoises as “withering on a remote island” (Atwood line 6). The author is explaining how she will envision the tortoises while she
confines herself to meditation, in sympathy of their weakness and death (Atwood lines 4-6).

Ironically we showcase and “symbolize” the giant tortoises after the fact that they have previously been at their highest point, life, and we ignored their elegance and even existence. Atwood does not quite follow the rules of an elegy because she writes about the sad life of the giant tortoises and writes little of their death; therefore, making “The Elegy for The Giant Tortoises,” the most creative poem we have read. Throughout the poem, Margaret Atwood used metaphors and imagery to convey the theme of how we symbolize the giant tortoises once they have passed, but ignore their greatness while they are physically on earth.

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