Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615

Margaret Atwood has written this story not only to examine what it is to be the “other” in a foreign culture but also to explore what it is to be “other” in one’s own social milieu. The title refers to the enigmatic, unnamed man who is so alien from Christine and her contemporaries that he might as well be from Mars. At their first encounter, Christine is polite, putting on her official welcoming smile, but his differences are so drastic that he is grossly unattractive to her. She concludes their conversation with a terminal smile, but such nuances are lost on him.

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A contact zone, a place where two different cultures confront each other, is established between Christine and the man, but it is such unfamiliar territory for both of them that they cannot navigate it in ways beneficial to either of them. The young man’s passion seems to be to maintain the contact zone no matter what, but he has no idea how to get to know Christine in the context of Canadian society.

Christine knows people from other cultures and thinks of herself as a liberal. Atwood wants to show that Christine is limited by Western ideology, even though Christine herself believes that she is tolerant and progressive. She has an uneasy relationship with Elvira, her mother’s West Indian housekeeper. Puzzled by Elvira’s surliness, Christine has no idea how to overcome the barriers between them. Even though Christine’s intentions are good, she is constrained by a dominant ideology that necessarily limits her perspective and compassion.

The Asian man is not the only outsider; Christine is an outsider in her own family. Her mother is petite and graceful, and Christine has two beautiful sisters, one already married, the other soon to be. Christine, large and athletic, does not fit her culture’s definition of beautiful. She has compensated for her outsider status by becoming involved in politics and athletics. Her male friends feel comfortable with her as a fellow athlete and hard worker, but to them she is neither attractive nor interesting.

It is the “man from Mars” who sees Christine as an alluring woman and, in so doing, brings about a change in her status. She becomes attractive because another man finds her so. It is as if her value as a commodity increases because there suddenly...

(The entire section contains 615 words.)

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