The Man from Mars

by Margaret Atwood

Start Free Trial

Themes and Meanings

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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.

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 is a demand when there was not one before. While she is living in the contact zone and interacting daily with this unstoppable man, her life becomes exciting, full of the unknown. She looks forward to the daily chases as she and her follower jog-trot between her classes.

The man oversteps the boundaries of what is permissible in the contact zone. He does not realize that his actions are going to be read by Canadian culture as dangerously out of bounds. Although he never does anything physically to harm Christine, the pervasive reality of violence toward women, of stalkers and Peeping Toms, feeds her imagination; she begins to fear he will have a weapon; when called, the police quickly label him as a psychotic.

When he is sent back to Montreal and finally to his home country, Christine’s collateral quickly falls, and she returns to her old, dull roles within the social strata of her cultural context. Atwood wants readers to recognize that not only the man but also Christine have missed some kind of chance. Sensitive readers are not so quick to condemn him as a psychotic; they share Christine’s sad curiosity and disappointment that they never get to negotiate the contact zone and know who he is and what drives him to pursue Christine with such intensity.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access