Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Margaret Atwood’s third novel, Lady Oracle continues her woman-centered approach, specifically her elaboration of the effects of romance fantasies upon women. An astute observer of culture, Atwood believes that popular fiction successfully connects with the reality of women’s lives and thereby perpetuates ideologies that limit their self-definition and self-fulfillment. The energies of Lady Oracle toward enumerating women’s needs in a male-defined society follow themes that had begun years earlier in her prose and poetry. Her first major collection of poetry, The Circle Game (1966), although demonstrating a more private voice, contains images of repression and attempted escape with special aversion to patterns of myths that bind human beings. The Animals in That Country (1968) suggests the Canadian search for identity in the face of false perceptions encouraged about Canada, particularly among Americans. The Journals of Susannah Moodie (1970), a modern-day look at the mid-nineteenth century settler in Canada, continues a preoccupation with a search for identity amid repressive circumstances. Furthering the emphasis on the submerged side of life, Atwood published Procedures for Underground in the same year.

Atwood’s prose craft is an outgrowth of her early apprenticeship. The Edible Woman (1969) describes a movement away from romantic connections, and in Surfacing (1971), Atwood angrily rejects masculinist culture and idealizes femininity. Following Lady Oracle, Life Before Man (1979) contests the socially accepted myths of romantic love and marital harmony. Bodily Harm (1981) and The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) lay bare the misogyny, or hatred of women, inherent in a patriarchal culture, whereas Cat’s Eye (1988) and The Robber Bride (1993) reject the idea of women’s superiority, focusing on the power politics of women’s relationships and exposing them as potentially exploitative and oppressive. Atwood’s books sound a cautionary voice about the damaging effects of society’s repressive forces.