Margaret Atwood Questions and Answers

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I need help paraphrasing and understanding "Gathering" by Margaret Atwood. (1) The people you know are growing older. A great unseen thumb is pushing gently and relentlessly down on the tops of their heads and they spread sideways. (5) They whiten, like raw wood in a salt wind. They silver. Their eyes are no longer surprised and guilefree blue pools, translucent, but small and knowledgeable (10) and shiny as the backs of beetles, or else those hard black berries you find still clutching the vines just before frost. Walking into a gathering of them (15) you think: cyanide. You think: webs. Or else you think you are in a roomful of gnomework, of those who were once your friends, transformed by some clear scentless power (20) to these puckered dreamhouse versions. What happened to the meadows? No one is ever used to this, to the nets, to all the clocks, the veins like cracks in porcelain. (25) How were they lost? What can you say to help them? Why are there suddenly so few? Their smiles are kodak shadows, (30) the door is locking, and whatever they ate or did to get this way is about to happen to you.

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When we paraphrase poetry, we take a section of text and translate it into our own words, often trading figurative language for literal language. Typically, paraphrases are nearer the length of the original text than summaries are, as summarizes seek to distill many words to few, which is not the goal of paraphrase.

In the first stanza, the speaker seems to directly address the reader, telling us that we are surrounded by people who are getting older. It is as though they are being pushed down by a giant thumb, as they get shorter and pudgier. They also grow paler, and their eyes show wisdom rather than innocence. In the second stanza, the speaker describes what it is like to walk into a group of aging people. It feels, apparently, like death: like being poisoned or stuck in a spider's web. Or else it feels like walking into a room full of garden gnomes, those stone lawn decorations with bulbous faces and funny expressions, but without the lawns.

In the third and fourth stanzas, the...

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