Rape Fantasies Summary
by Margaret Atwood

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Rape Fantasies Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Developed through the literary device of dramatic monologue, this story presents virtually no exposition and little recognizable plot. The reader must wait patiently for tidbits of information while wading through the inane rambling utterances of a protagonist who is obviously speaking to a male not directly involved in the story.

Estelle, the narrator, undertakes her quixotic wanderings by relating an incident that took place earlier in the week. During her lunch breaks at work, she customarily spends time with her office mates—Sondra, Chrissy, and Greta—playing bridge, delving into office gossip, and commenting on the world as they see it. On this particular day their game is interrupted by a more serious matter when Chrissy alludes to a magazine article she is reading about the rape fantasies of women.

As the co-workers take turns sharing their ideas on the topic, Estelle grows more critical not only of their perceptions of rape and rapists but also of each of the other women. She appears to be unaware, however, that through her derogatory descriptions of them, she is disclosing her own underlying insecurity, envy, and frustration.

After recapping her version of the remembered conversation, Estelle launches into the particulars of her own fantasies and it is at this point that the character becomes more fully rounded. She seems convinced—or is attempting to convince her current implied listener—that she is capable of thwarting any potential attacker and that, ultimately, through reason and care, she can touch the core of the rapist and permanently convert him. In viewing herself as a defender of the downtrodden and redeemer of the disillusioned, Estelle unveils her need for control over her own life.

In one imagined encounter, she is approached on a darkened street by a strange, physically repulsive man. Rather than experiencing fear or feeling traumatized in this fantasy, Estelle empathizes with the attacker and expresses genuine pity for his unattractiveness. She takes control by recommending that he visit her dermatologist.

In another such imaginary tryst, Estelle is lying in bed with a cold as her potential rapist climbs through a window. Ironically, he also has a cold and they blissfully share a box of tissue. In her third and most farfetched daydream, Estelle attempts to discourage an attack by telling the rapist she has leukemia. Naturally, in her limited scope, the attacker has been similarly diagnosed, and they move in together and fantasize about funeral arrangements.

Even in her most frightening fantasy—a devil-possessed man who enters her mother’s house through a basement coal chute—Estelle is triumphant in outwitting the rapist and in saving herself. This is the most intriguing scenario of her presentation, for not only is she moderately frightened for once, the scene possibly symbolizes her psychic makeup. (The psychoanalytic school of literary criticism might interpret her fear as springing from her seeing the villain penetrating an opening not intended for his use; while the feminist perspective could ascribe the feeling to the violation of the perceived safety of her mother’s house.)


(Short Stories for Students)

The first-person narrator of "Rape Fantasies" is Estelle, a young office worker who notes how popular the topic of rape has become in women's magazines. According to Estelle, articles on the subject seem to be everywhere; titles like "Rape, Ten Things To Do About It" appear in capital letters on the magazine covers, ''like it was ten new hairdos or something." She recounts a conversation that took place during her lunch hour between herself and her coworkers after Chrissy, a receptionist in Estelle's office, has read one of these articles. Chrissy interrupts her coworkers' bridge game to ask if any of them ever fantasize about rape. Each character's response defines her personality: Estelle would rather continue playing cards, Chrissy and Sondra are interested in trading stories, and Darlene, the oldest and the only...

(The entire section is 1,244 words.)