Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“All Bread” expresses the core of Atwood’s vision: humankind’s love-hate relationship with the natural world, as well as with the dichotomies of its own nature. This vision is delineated through a voice that is ironic in tone, suitable for exploring the conflicts and ambiguities of humankind’s struggles to survive both physically and psychically.

In an earlier poem, “Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer” (The Animals in That Country, 1968), Atwood defines the power struggle between humans and nature as “the tension/ between subject and object.” Part of this tension lies in humans’ recognition of nature as mainly predatory, and of human existence as a struggle both to survive and also to subvert these same predatory tendencies in the human character. The very real struggles of early Canadian settlers from Europe, many of whom were unsuited to the harsh Canadian climate and landscape, have provided Atwood with the perfect metaphor for exploring the nature-humankind relationship. In her own study, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972), Atwood concludes the chapter “Nature the Monster” by observing, “Nature is a monster, perhaps, only if you come to it with unreal expectations or fight its conditions rather than accepting them or learning to live with them.”

The speaker of “All Bread” begins by expressing outright distaste for natural processes: “All bread is made of . . .// the...

(The entire section is 588 words.)