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Margaret Atwood - A prolific Controversial and Innovative Writer

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Margaret Atwood

A prolific, controversial, and innovative writer, Margaret Atwood has emerged as one of the most eminent contemporary figures in Canadian literature. Weaving stories from her own life in bush and cities of Canada, she questions the stereotypes of nationality and gender. Atwood has been variously assessed as

a feminist writer, for her incisive commentaries on sex roles, a religious writer, for her visions of spiritual ecstasy, a gothic writer, for her images of grotesque misfits and surreal disorientations of the psyche, a writer of Canadian wilderness; a nationalist writer and a regionalist.

(Rosenberg 15)

Despite the fact that she mostly writes about women, from a female perspective and with a noticeable feminist slant, her writings transcends the boundaries of what is often described as feminist fiction. In all her works she focuses on Canadian nationality and women’s exploitation. Atwood remarks that her place is Canada, she goes on to say that, “As far as I’m concerned, life begins with geology, and with geography· look at a map of Canada (Conversations).

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Her novels are filled with characters who are all seeking something; whether for answers, equilibrium, freedom, revenge, understanding, or fulfillment. Her stories range from childhood cruelty to grown up inhumanity of people towards each other; from the search of a father, to the search for answers in a post apocalyptical wasteland. The plots are complex; filled with passion and drive. In her novels, she creates situations in which women burdened by the rules and inequalities of their respective societies, discover that they must reconstruct braver, self reliant personae in order to survive.

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Her protagonists are often a kind of ‘every woman’ characters or the weaker members of the society. Atwood explores women’s issues using elements of science fiction, historical fact, fairy tale, and dystopian vision. She makes her protagonists undergo the journey from victimization to self-actualization.

The main protagonist of her novel EW, Marian MacAlpin is a young, triumphant woman, working in market research. Her job, private life, and social relations seem to be idealistic, but when she finds out her boyfriend’s consumer nature during a talk in the restaurant, she can’t eat. Marian’s initial lack of desire for food finally leads to an eating disorder, very similar to anorexia nervosa, which is her body’s response to the society’s effort of imposing its policy on the heroine. Moreover, the three parts of the novel propose the course of this eating disorder. Background causes are shown in part one, Part Two indicates the mind/body split and Part Three reflects the spontaneous declaration of the problem.

Marian’s character is formed first by her parents’ plans for her future, then by Peter’s. Marian fears Peter’s tough personality will ruin her own delicate identity. This subconscious perception of Peter as predator is shown by Marian’s body as a lack of ability to eat. Looking at him, she sees “his face strangely shadowed, his eyes gleaming like an animal’s in the beam from a car headlight. His stare was intent, faintly ominous” (Atwood 89). She sees him, subconsciously, as a predator waiting to pounce on her. She associates Peter with a doctor at times when they’re in bed together. She lets Peter “run his hand gently over her skin…almost clinically as if he could learn by touch whatever it was that had escaped the probing of his eyes” (165). The distressing portrayal of Marian as a patient on a doctor’s examination table clearly signifies the sexual politics at work within the relationship between the protagonist and her husband-to-be. When they go out for a steak dinner, she watches him “operating” (167) on his steak. She envisions the cow, alive, with the diagram of cuts drawn onto it. She then begins to see her own steak “as a hunk of muscle. Blood red” (167). As Peter finishes his steak, she subconsciously relates to the cow being devoured by Peter. She acts like an animal fleeing from its predator. “She could not let him catch her this time. Once he pulled the trigger she would be stopped, fixed indissolubly in that gesture, that single stance, unable to move or change” (272). She associates the taking of the picture with the pulling of a trigger and being caught. She also realizes that she won’t be able to escape the image that Peter projects onto her after the marriage, so she decides to escape it right away.

Marian’s rejection to eat can be seen as her struggle to being strained into a more feminine role. Following her engagement, the change to third-person narrative shows that Marian’s story is restricted by someone other than Marian herself; following Marian’s regaining of identity, Atwood returns to first-person narration. Peter proposes to Marian.

The unnamed protagonist of the novel Sf comes back from Toronto to Northern Quebec, where she lived as a child, to look for her father who is reported to have disappeared mysteriously. The protagonist seems to have returned to the place after nine years. She has totally cut herself off from her parents all these years. Her long separation was deliberate as she was in love with a married man who exploited her innocence, made her pregnant and then refused to marry her, saying that he was already married and had children. He suggests her to undergo an operation to get out of the situation she landed herself into. She had pregnancy terminated against her wishes and could not face her parents after this incident. Unable to cope with painful reality herself, she devised a more acceptable reality for herself as well. She imagined that she was married and had a child. But she had lost him to her husband whom she divorced. The unnamed protagonist comes to the island with her three friends Joe with whom she is sharing a flat in the city, and her casual friends, a married couple David and Anna. All along her search for her father she discovers that he is dead. The fact of her father’s death by drowning brings back to her all the traumatic memories of the aborted foetus memories lying dormant in her subconscious. She realizes that she could have allowed the child to be born out of the wedlock as the man had refused to marry her. She now has the courage to defy the institution of marriage as it involves the exploitation of women as she becomes a mere puppet at the mercy of her husband. Gradually she comes to believe that she is herself anti nature as she tried to subvert nature by getting her foetus aborted. She must, therefore, compensate for her anti-nature activity. She must now bear a child and bring it up as a natural human being, in order to be one with the nature. At this point she uses Joe to get pregnant but refuses to marry him. She exploits him in order to avenge her disgrace at the hands of her previous lover who used her and later refused to marry her. The roles are reversed now and the quest of the protagonist is complete.

In order to be one with the nature she sheds her clothes which according to her are the grabs of the civilization. She ultimately reaches a stage when “the lake is quiet, the trees surround·asking and giving nothing.” (Atwood 200)

AG is based on the true story of the murders of a Mr. Kinnear and his pregnant housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in 1840?s Canada. Two servants; James McDermott and Grace Marks, were convicted and sentenced to death for the murders.Her convicted accomplice was hanged, but Grace’s sentence was commuted to life in prison at the last minute. Because of her amnesia and outbursts of rage and panic, she was held in the Lunatic Asylum before being sent to the Kingston [Ontario] Penitentiary. Grace’s story is told on several levels: chronologically, through her recollections; retrospectively, through the doctor’s thoughts and actions; and medically, through his letters and reports by other observers. Grace mentions at one point in the novel:

I have little enough of my own, no belongings, no possessions, no privacy to speak of, and I need to keep something for myself; and in any case, what use would he have for my dreams, after all? (Atw

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Margaret Atwood - A prolific Controversial and Innovative Writer. (2019, Dec 03). Retrieved from

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