Margaret Atwood Questions and Answers

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What is the tone of Margaret Atwood's poem "At the Tourist Center In Boston"?

The tone of Margaret Atwood's poem "At the Tourist Centre in Boston" is one of cynicism and disgust at the phoniness of a tourist display about Canada.

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The tone of a poem is emotion or overall impression it conveys. Margaret Atwood's poem, "At the Tourist Centre in Boston" conveys a tone of cynicism and disgust at a tourist display about Canada.

The speaker is in Boston, looking at a map of her home country, Canada. The map is big and under glass. It is surrounded by ten large blown-up photos, one for each of the provinces. The map—which show red dots for the cities—and the photos around the map, both distort what Canada is. The speaker says of the photos that they have an "assertive purity" and show an unrealistic mother with "teeth white as detergent."

The speaker calls these photos a "dream." She asks where the other parts of Canada are, the parts she is familiar with. Where is the "slush," the "garbage," the "machines" that are also part of Canada? The speaker says, bitterly and wryly, that perhaps these memories she has are "private mirages." In contrast to the placid, natural, idealized beauty of the Canadian landscape in the photos, the speaker has violent thoughts: perhaps, she thinks with bitter humor, these scenes are meant to lure tourists in for "massacres." Finally, the speaker asks,

Was the sky ever that blue?
Who really lives there?

The speaker is pushing back with distrust and derision against the Canada this tourist display projects. She shows her distaste for this kind of phoniness by pointing out realities about Canada.

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