Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing

by Margaret Atwood
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What impression is suggested in lines 17–19 of "Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing"?

In lines 17–19 of "Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing," the speaker gives the impression that she is proud of what she does for a living.

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In the first stanza of the poem, the speaker, a version of Helen of Troy, criticizes women who tell her that she should be "ashamed" of herself because she makes her living as a countertop dancer. She says that she would much rather earn her living as a dancer than as somebody who works in a shop, "standing / in one place for eight hours." She says that it takes more talent to sell what she sells, namely sexual allure and desire, than to sell "gloves, or something."

At the end of the first stanza, in lines 17 to 19, the speaker derides the women who tell her that she is being "Exploited." She acknowledges this truth but implies that any type of work ("any way / you cut it") is essentially exploitative. Moreover, she asserts that she would rather choose her form of work—and therefore, of exploitation—for herself. She says, "I've a choice / of how," meaning that it is up to her, and nobody else, how she chooses to earn her living.

The overall impression created in these lines is of a proud, defiant, and independent woman. The speaker refuses to follow the conventional path that others say she, as a woman, should follow, instead choosing to forge a path for herself.

In the next stanza of the poem, the speaker explains and justifies the pride and defiance evoked at the end of the first stanza. She says that she "sell[s] vision," and that she dances for men "because / they can't." The speaker's view here is that her way of earning her living offers genuine value, and thus she nothing to apologize for or be ashamed of.

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