Margaret Atwood Atwood, Margaret (Vol. 3)

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Atwood, Margaret (Vol. 3)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Atwood, Margaret 1939–

Ms. Atwood is an award-winning Canadian poet, novelist, and critic.

Power Politics looks at the relationship between man and woman from only one angle, and perhaps even from the point of view of one particular relationship, and maybe through the kind of telephoto close-ups achieved by keeping a long distance away from the subject. This is fine; other poets are free to examine the same subject from another angle, or from the point of view of a different kind of relationship, or by jamming their cameras right down their subject's throat. Margaret Atwood might do this herself in another book, but in Power Politics she does it this way and she does it well. Her book is controlled, intelligent, incisive and revealing, and it is totally free of stridency, self-pity, or any other kind of vulgarity of the mind….

Power Politics—perhaps with a few of its images reversed—could have been written by any mature and accomplished poet. This of course means that it could have been written only by a very few men or women besides Margaret Atwood.

George Jonas, "Cool Sounds in a Minor Key," in Saturday Night, May, 1971, pp. 30-1.

Critics and reviewers have tended to link the names of Margaret Atwood and Sylvia Plath. The resemblances, though superficial, are hard to avoid; they fit the easiest human categories; each author is young, modern in voice (nothing to read with a box of chocolates) and, of course, female. Those who read running cannot escape the parallels. But this is unjust and inaccurate….

There are comparisons that help understand Atwood, but they are all rugged and "masculine." She is a pioneer, she is Huck Finn on the raft, she is Hemingway in darkest Africa; she is not a Smith young lady, fetching up her marks and prizes to fuel the gas oven.

The beauty of [Surfacing] is that it saves everything. All the themes Atwood has been brooding over for years (successfully! in five volumes of verse and a less-noticed novel) are here tied together and made into a whole that is much more than the sum of its parts. The title is better than accurate; it is a well-developed metaphor. She knows the difference, looking into black bright water, between the shadow and the reflection. She is sharp-sensed, tutored, and physically strong. The novel picks up themes brooded over in the poetry, and knits them together coherently….

The novel will be read by liberationists as an Uncle Tom's Cabin, a tract against the horrors attendant on a bisexual world: unhappy marriage, lost child, backstairs abortion. It will be read by nationalists and separationsists of all persuasions however they want to read it.

Margaret Wimsatt, "The Lady as Humphrey Bogart," in Commonweal (reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), July 9, 1973, pp. 483-84.

The central problem with Margaret Atwood's second novel [Surfacing] is its utter transparency. It presents so simplistic a thesis about women in capitalistic society that the book loses any impact it might otherwise have.

Ms. Atwood apparently has yet to learn that good literature does not result from disguised political statements. At every turn her characters are sacrificed to her ideas. Eventually the plot is twisted out of shape altogether, and the novel's considerable lyric power is subverted—reduced to trite symbolism. Moreover, not satisfied with imitating Sylvia Plath in her first work, The Edible Woman, Ms. Atwood has now absconded with the very image of the bell jar itself: "I believe that an unborn baby has its eyes open and can look out through the walls of his mother's stomach, like a frog in a jar." The picture of a fetus enclosed in glass, once taken up, is driven into the ground….

If anything comes to the surface in this thoroughly unconvincing novel, it is probably the need for those at the fore-front of the Women's Movement to reassess their roles in respect to those for whom they would speak. No longer the butt of jokes told by third-rate comics, feminists such as Ms....

(The entire section is 2,007 words.)