Margaret Atwood


Wikipedia Information
Loading...

Showing 1 - 8 of 8 annotations associated with Atwood, Margaret

Oryx and Crake: A Novel

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Feb-15-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Please note that in order to properly annotate this novel, the novel's surprise ending will be revealed here. Snowman--who used to be called, Jimmy--is a rare survivor of a dreadful catastrophe that seems to have been both the product and the demise of modern science. He lives in a tree, clad in rags, hiding from relentless heat and hoarding his precarious cache of food and alcohol, while he tries to obliterate consciousness and avoid contact with a peculiar race of beings, the Crakers. Through a series of reminiscences as he makes his way back to where he once worked, Snowman's past slowly advances to meet his future.

The world heated up to be uninhabitable desert and genetic engineering created more problems (and species! [pigoons, rakunks, wolvogs]) than solutions. People became increasingly reliant on artificial environments--both internal and external--while their purveyors--drug and technology firms--held ever greater but unthinking power. The world was divided into two: the rich, safe controlled spaces and the dangerous chaotic realm of the poor. Then an epidemic wiped out most of the human race.

Two friends are central to the story: brilliant but inscrutable Crake whose nerdy gift for science had a role in engineering the 'pure' Crakers and the horrifying world that they occupy; and beautiful, seductive Oryx whose regard of knowing innocence heaps scorn upon messy human desire and emotion. They are the Yin and Yang of the "constructed" world. Only at the end, the reader learns that Oryx was murdered by Crake, who was slain by Snowman. It seems that his arduous journey was simply to destroy the history of the events that he had written and left behind.

View full annotation

The Handmaid's Tale

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Aug-23-2006
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Handmaid’s Tale is set in the futuristic Republic of Gilead. Sometime in the future, conservative Christians take control of the United States and establish a dictatorship. Most women in Gilead are infertile after repeated exposure to pesticides, nuclear waste, or leakages from chemical weapons. The few fertile women are taken to camps and trained to be handmaidens, birth-mothers for the upper-class. Infertile lower-class women are sent either to clean up toxic waste or to become "Marthas," house servants. No women in the Republic are permitted to be openly sexual; sex is for reproduction only. The government declares this a feminist improvement on the sexual politics of today when women are seen as sex objects.

The novel focuses on one handmaid, Offred (she is given the name of the man whose children she is expected to bear--she is of Fred). Offred became a handmaid after an attempt to escape with her daughter and husband from Gilead. They fail; her daughter is given away to a needy woman in the upper circles, and Offred does not know whether her husband is alive or dead, whether he escaped or was captured. Offred is in the service of the General and his wife, Serena Joy. Serena Joy hates that she is unable to bear children and hates Offred for taking her husband seed. If Offred does not become pregnant promptly, Serena Joy will undoubtedly take revenge by sending her away, possibily to the toxic colonies.

Offred does not become pregnant, but she does develop an unexpected relationship with the General. He plays games of Scrabble with her (all forms of writing are officially denied handmaids) and gives her gifts of cosmetics and old fashion magazines. One night he dresses her in a cocktail dress and takes her to an illegal nightclub where Offred runs into an old female friend, now a prostitute in the club.

Serena Joy, desperate for children, finally arranges for Offred to sleep with the chauffeur. The two are happy together; she thinks she is pregnant. Soon after, Serena Joy finds the cocktail dress the General gave to Offred. She knows her husband is to blame, but accuses Offred anyway and sends for the police to take her away to certain death. When the van arrives to take her away, however, it is driven by rebels who carry Offred to safety.

View full annotation

The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Jul-26-2004
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Three stories are intertwined in this complex novel; in the end, they become one. In a series of flashbacks, the elderly Iris Chase Griffen writes of her long life. At the outset, newspaper clippings present three tragic deaths from 1945 to 1975: sister, husband, and daughter.

Iris's pretty, younger sister, Laura, died at age 25 when she drove her car off a bridge. Two years later, Iris published Laura's novel, Blind Assassin, to critical acclaim, projecting the author to posthumous fame. Only weeks later, Iris was widowed when her husband drowned. Then many years later, Iris's daughter, Aimée, breaks her neck and dies from the ravages of drug and alcohol abuse. Iris also loses care of her only grandchild, four-year old Sabrina. Iris looks back on the circumstances before and after these deaths.

Growing up in small-town Ontario without a mother, Iris was expected to look after Laura. But the younger girl's guileless intensity inspired exasperation and jealousy, as well as affection. In the 1930s, the sisters managed to hide a young radical, Alex Thomas, in the family attic before he escaped to Spain; they both fell in love. But at age nineteen, Iris is forced to enter a joyless marriage to wealthy Richard Griffen out of obedience to her father who hoped that the union would save his factory. It did not.

Laura is bossed by the politically ambitious Richard and his domineering sister, Winifred. Defiance and maternity allow Iris to carve out her own space within the confines of the social situation. But she is increasingly estranged from the romantic, inscrutable Laura who is eventually sent to an "asylum" where she has an abortion. Upon her release, the sisters reconnect, only to hurt each other with painful revelations (unrevealed here to avoid spoiling the effect for readers; some will have guessed them in advance).

The other two of the three stories stem from Laura's acclaimed novel "Blind Assassin," parts of which are interspersed. On one level, it relates the passionate affair of a refined woman (very like the author) and a political fugitive (very like Alex) who meet in his sordid hiding places. On another level, it is an Ali Baba-esque fairy tale, invented by the lovers, about a cruel society in which child-labor, ritualistic rape, and human sacrifice are routine. The killers are children who have been blinded by their enforced work knotting beautiful rugs.

View full annotation

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In this poem the speaker says she is talking about the real heart, not the sentimental image of a heart. Something is wrong with hers. She tries various images to describe it--a "caved hermit," an "unshelled turtle." She listens through an imaginary stethoscope. Most hearts say "I want, I want . . . " but hers is more uncertain. "Duplicitous," she calls it. Her heart says "I want, I don’t want . . . " In the flesh, this heart has an arrhythmia, the speaker can’t depend on it, it causes anxiety. In the spirit, though, this heart is equally undependable. How can she live with it? Sometime she will say "Heart, be still, / and it will."

View full annotation

Hairball

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This well crafted story concerns a contemporary woman in her thirties who undergoes significant personal losses; in fact, she seems to lose or lack an identity. Over the years, Kat, an "avant garde" fashion photographer, has altered her image, even her name, to suit the situation and the times. She has had two abortions and "learned to say that she didn't want children anyway."

The story begins when Kat undergoes surgical removal of a rare and peculiar ovarian tumor containing hair, teeth, bones (the clinical term is a dermoid cyst ); Kat dubs it "hairball " and stores it in formaldehyde on her mantelpiece. We learn that Kat's relationship with her married lover is going sour, that he will replace her as creative director at work. She fantasizes that she has given birth to "hairball" who she sees as the "warped child" of their failed relationship. Physical symptoms accompany Kat's growing emotional confusion. Hairball becomes the vehicle for an ultimate bizarre act reflecting Kat's personality disintegration. She has gone from being Katherine to Kath to Kat, to K, to being "temporarily without a name."

View full annotation

Alias Grace

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

For more than fifteen years, Irish-born Grace Marks has been confined for the 1843 murder of housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, and her employer, Thomas Kinnear, at their home north of Toronto. Her convicted accomplice was hanged, accusing Grace with his last breath, but her 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.

Beautiful, intelligent, and strangely poised, Grace intrigues worthy townsfolk, spiritualists, and some of her jailers, who grant her the privilege of outside work, believe in her innocence, and strive for a pardon. In looking for medical approbation, they consult Dr. Simon Jordan, a young American doctor who is interested in insanity and memory loss. Without explaining his purpose, he brings her vegetables and other familiar objects, hoping to stimulate recollection of her life.

Interspersed with Jordan's own problems, Grace's story unfolds in her own words, from her poverty-stricken childhood in Ireland and the emigration voyage that killed her mother, leaving her and her younger siblings to a neglectful father, through her short life in service, to the dreadful events of autumn 1843. She has suffered many losses, including the death of her mother to ship fever, and that of her friend and fellow servant, Mary Whitney, from an illegally procured abortion. After many weeks, Jordan abandons his project in frustration and ambiguity. The novel ends years later with forty-six year-old Grace's discharge from prison in 1872, nearly thirty years after the crime.

View full annotation

Rape Fantasies

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

Written in 1977, "Rape Fantasies" appears to be a recap of a conversation among several women during their lunch hour, a few of them playing bridge, one--Chrissy the receptionist--reading aloud from a tabloid. When Chrissy asks the question, "How about it, girls, do you have rape fantasies?" the story unfolds with each woman’s response, all retold from the perspective of Estelle, who’s doing her best to deflect the entire conversation by concentrating on her bidding.

The conversation is tragically ironic, moving from woman to woman, Darlene calling the entire subject "disgusting," Greta describing a Tarzan-like scenario, Chrissy describing hers in a bubble bath, when Estelle, ever the voice of reason, reminds them that what they’re describing are sexual fantasies: "Listen . . . those aren’t rape fantasies. I mean, you aren’t getting raped, it’s just some guy you haven’t met formally who happens to be more attractive than Derek Cummins . . . and you have a good time. Rape is when they’ve got a knife or something and you don’t want to" (104).

Estelle then describes her rape fantasy where she deflects her attacker by squirting juice from a plastic lemon in his eyes ("You should hear the one about the Easy Off Cleaner"), but also includes the one where "this short, ugly fellow comes up and grabs my arm . . . [and] I say, kind of disgusted, ’Oh for Chrissake,’ and he starts to cry," which prompts a wave of sympathy in Estelle (106). And there are more, each with Estelle warding off her attacker through outsmarting him ("I’ve just found out I have leukemia"), or talking him out of it.

As the narrative continues, the reader becomes aware that Estelle is addressing someone in addition to the reader--"I hope you don’t mind me holding my nose like this . . . " (107) and that person is probably a man (twice Estelle says, "But I guess it’s different for a guy"). As the story ends, we realize that Estelle all along has been in a bar, speaking to a man she has just met, worrying about the possibility she will be raped by him. "Like, how could a fellow do that to a person he’s just had a long conversation with, once you let them know you’re human, you have a life too, I don’t see how they could go ahead with it, right?" (110). We are left wondering whether all these "conversations" are Estelle’s deliberate inventions, her way of trying to control a potentially dangerous social interaction.

View full annotation

Bodily Harm

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Nov-17-2003
Annotated by:
Moore, Pamela

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Rennie is a freelance magazine writer. She writes mostly about fashion trends or travel and spends her free time with her controlling but sensual boyfriend, Jake. Her life changes dramatically when she finds out she has breast cancer, then has one breast removed. She feels as if she is about to die, as if worms are eating away at her insides.

Her boyfriend pretends to feel fine about it, but Rennie senses his disgust and their relationship ends. She realizes that she is in love with her surgeon. After all, he has seen a part of her that even she herself has never seen--her inside. The married surgeon is guilt-ridden and Rennie decides to go on vacation.

She ends up on a small island near Grenada. While she is there, a coup breaks out. Rennie becomes a hostage. Upon her release, she returns home. Now, however, she feels lucky to be alive and feels more alive than many around her.

View full annotation