Margaret Atwood

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What is the subject of the speech "Attitude" by Margaret Atwood?

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The sentiments and topics of Margaret Atwood's speech "Attitude," given more than thirty years ago, are still applicable today.

Seemingly light and humorous in tone, "Attitude" starts with anecdotes and recounts Atwood's own time during college and after her graduation. The core message of the speech is not reached...

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until the end stages, when Atwood confesses there is a "hidden agenda" to her words.

She goes on to say that the world "is both half empty and half full," making the analogy that while nature is beautiful, it is slowly being destroyed by humanity because we lack the will to stop making mistakes. Atwood references the Soviet/US brinkmanship of the 1980s, stating, "We secretly think in terms not of 'If the Bomb Drops' but of 'When the Bomb Drops,' and it’s understandable if we sometimes let ourselves slide into a mental state of powerlessness and consequent apathy."

These depressing examples point to Atwood's real message, which is that people can either accept the status quo, with all its depressing problems, or change their attitude towards this reality, which, "paradoxically, alters reality."

Atwood's message is admirable but almost eerie, as these sentiments also apply to the world we face today, almost thirty-five years later. Given her words, today Atwood would probably say that not enough people have changed their attitude towards reality to stop the slow march towards destruction.

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Margaret Atwood gave the speech "Attitude" during the commencement ceremony for graduates of University of Toronto on June 14th, 1983. 30-some years later, much of what she says still rings true for graduates of liberal arts schools today. 

In the speech, Atwood discusses many topics. She talks about her own experience at a liberal arts school and uses a humorous tone to describe her many escapades and trials afterwards, finding work and advancing her writing. 

Atwood also discusses the uncertainty that many of the graduates are about to face, saying that "ejection" is a better word for what they are doing, as the students will be ejected from the relative safety of college and thrown into an uncertain real world where they'll have to make their way. As a metaphor, she says, "There are definitely going to be days when you will feel that you’ve been given a refrigerator and sent to the middle of a jungle, where there are no three-pronged grounded plugholes."

Atwood then launches into the story of preparing her speech, giving a few examples of messages she considered leaving the graduates with, most humorous bits of hopelessness, like the uselessness of everything she learned in college and silly theories on writers and writing. 

In the last three paragraphs of her speech, though, Atwood gets to her main message: that the graduates will have a choice as they face the often dismal world. They can choose to look at the negative or positive in life and that choice impacts the world. As she puts it, "You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it, and this, paradoxically, alters reality. Try it and see."

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