The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The characters of Atwood’s novel function not only as individuals but also as a means of exploration of new identities for Joan. Joan searches for her self in the characters she creates in her romance novels—in that they are all versions of herself—and in the “escapes” she precipitates from her various relationships. Her identity confusion, which centers on two images of herself—a ballerina and a circus fat lady—is played out through her writing of fantasies. As narrator of Lady Oracle, Joan describes the significant people in her life in terms of restrictions that mass-produced fantasies place on women. She registers certain cultural attitudes regarding femininity within the descriptions of herself and other characters in the novel. Joan’s mother, Fran Delacourt, is perceived by Joan as a mother-monster, an evil queen presiding over Joan’s tormented childhood. Fran is disgusted with Joan’s obesity and seeks constantly to change her into someone else. Her efforts to ascribe to Joan the girlhood ideal of femininity strikes Joan as so loathsome that Fran seems transformed by her three-way mirror into a three-headed monster. Joan hates not only her mother but also the mother within herself. After Fran’s death, Joan’s image of her cold, menacing mother continues to suffocate and cause her to fear engulfment by her mother. Toward the novel’s end, Joan witnesses another spectral visitation of her mother’s image and begins to understand...

(The entire section is 522 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The unfolding of Joan Foster's multiple incarnations provides the major source of narrative interest in this novel: She is herself the text's...

(The entire section is 768 words.)