Margaret Atwood

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Describe Penelope's relationships with her parents in The Penelopiad.

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Penelope's relationship with both her mother and father in The Penelopiad is very complex, and it's a topic that even in the afterlife she still cannot make sense of. After her death, Penelope is given the chance to tell her own side of the story of The Odyssey, and she does so by beginning with her own childhood.

Penelope is the daughter of King Icarius of Sparta and a nameless Naiad, a water nymph. In her narration, she gives an emotionless retelling of a story she heard about her childhood. She describes how her father had thrown her off a cliff and into the sea, yet she doesn't know the exact reason why and only thinks that he either was given a prophecy or offered her as a sacrifice to Poseidon. Nevertheless, she is saved by her connection to water thanks to her mother being a water nymph. This causes her to float rather than drown, and then a flock of ducks rescue her.

This obviously causes her relationship with her father to be strained, despite his guilt and the abundant displays of affection he shows her after she is saved. She doubts her father throughout her childhood and still cannot think of why he would try to kill her in the first place: "Why did he throw me in? That question still haunts me."

Her relationship with her mother isn't any better, as Penelope sees her as cold and neglectful: "When I was little I often tried to throw my arms around her, but she had a habit of sliding away." Penelope's mother is largely absent from her life, and though Penelope says she would like to think her mother is the reason she was saved when she was thrown into the sea, she acknowledges that this is likely untrue. She even goes on to say that if her father hadn't thrown her into the sea, then her mother surely would have.

Ultimately, Penelope spends much of her time thinking of excuses to use for her parents' actions. Even in the afterlife, her father avoids her just as her mother did when she was alive. Despite that, she tries to create versions of them in her stories that show they care about her. But as a girl living in Ancient Greece, she is only considered to be useful for having babies. Her parents' treatment of her is important because it causes Penelope's lack of confidence and inability to trust.

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