In the short story "My Life as a Bat," what tone does author Margaret Atwood's syntax and diction create?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Bats are frequently misunderstood creatures, and Margaret Atwood celebrates the lives of bats in her short story "My Life as a Bat." More importantly, she juxtaposes bat behavior with human behavior to show that humans are the beings to be feared, not bats. One element she uses to juxtapose bat and human behavior is combinations of syntax used to draw comparisons between their behaviors. In so doing, she creates an ironic tone that parodies human behavior.

Depending on the complexity of the point she wants to express and how much she wants to emphasize the point, she will use a combination of compound, compound-complex, and simple sentences to draw comparisons between bat and human behavior. Examples can be found in the following passage:

Bats have a few things they put up with, but they do not inflict. When they kill, they kill without mercy, but without hate. They are immune from the curse of pity. They never gloat. (lines 18-20)

The first sentence in this passage is a compound sentence, meaning that it is two sentences joined by a conjunction (and, but, or, etc.), and she is using the compound sentence to compare bat behavior to human behavior. The first half of the sentence says that bats have their negative behaviors, just as humans do; however, bats "do not inflict," meaning they "do not inflict" pain and suffering on others, which is a common human characteristic.

The next sentence is a compound-complex sentence, meaning that it contains a compound sentence but also begins with an introductory element, which makes the sentence complex as well. She uses her compound-complex sentence to dramatize her point about bats killing--it is a fact that bats must kill to eat, and they are not merciful to their victims when they kill. However, they do not kill out of hatred--only humans kill out of hatred.

The next two sentences are simple sentences; their simplicity help to emphasize their ending words "pity" and "gloat." At first glance, one might think these two simple sentences are unrelated. But if we remember her earlier pattern of drawing comparisons in each sentence, we're forced to conclude that the two simple sentences are related and to draw a unified comparison. We can also stop and wonder why Atwood refers to pity as a "curse." One reason is because pity is distinct from empathy. If we feel pity for another, we see that person or thing is in a weakened condition and needs help, but that realization also automatically places us in a position of superiority over who or that which we pity. Feeling superior is also akin to gloating. Hence, using these two simple sentences, Atwood is arguing that bats never pity because they never see themselves as being superior, and in so doing, they also never gloat, as humans do.

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