Rape Fantasies Critical Overview
by Margaret Atwood

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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

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''Rape Fantasies'' is frequently anthologized and is commonly taught in high schools and colleges, but critics often tend to ignore this story and focus on Atwood's novels. The writers who have commented on the story, however, often note the humorous tone of the story, which seems to be at odds with the serious topic of rape. Lee Briscoe Thompson in her essay "Minuets and Madness: Margaret Atwood's Dancing Girls," notes that in "Rape Fantasies," "the cutting edge seems thoroughly dulled by the sheer zaniness of the dialogue." Another Atwood critic, Sherrill Grace, in Violent Duality: A Study of Margaret Atwood commends the story for ''offering moving, indeed profound, insights into human nature and the problems of human relationships, without over-burdening the story form."

The most controversial point of the story concerns the narrator, Estelle. Some commentators take her to be a naive woman, while others laud her tactical maneuvers in self-defense. Barbara Hill Rigney claims that Estelle is a "naive narrator" who believes rape can be avoided "by simply reasoning with the rapist." Sherrill Grace and Lisa Tyler, however, assert that Estelle is just the opposite. In her essay, '"I Just Don't Understand It': Teaching Margaret Atwood's 'Rape Fantasies'," Tyler discusses how students often find the story too "provocative," others "sail through the story blithely," and yet others are "scandalized" or "indignant" that rape is spoken about in such a cavalier fashion. Tyler notes that through the technique of a dramatic monologue, the reader must first sympathize with the speaker in order to understand the work; then and only then can the reader judge the speaker's character or even recognize the pathology of emotions presented. Thus, readers must sympathize with Estelle before judging her. Estelle does not withdraw from human connection; she struggles to establish connections in spite of her vulnerability and fear.

Critic Sally A. Jacobsen admits in an essay for Approaches to Teaching Atwood that "Atwood acknowledges that rapport is no defense," especially considering that date rape or acquaintance rape—relationships in which conversational rapport has presumably been established—is more common than rape by a...

(The entire section is 531 words.)