Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The predominant literary technique employed in “Rape Fantasies” is borrowed from the realm of poets and playwrights. Atwood employs a dramatic monologue, wherein one speaker relates information to an implied listener who does not participate in the action. Used successfully by such classic poets as Robert Browning and T. S. Eliot, the dramatic monologue tends to reveal facets of the speaker that she or he may assume are hidden. By describing others in a negative vein or by unconscious slips of the tongue, the protagonist lifts her mask and permits a view of her truest self.

Stylistically, “Rape Fantasies” illustrates the literary tenet that the reader cannot and should not completely trust the reliability of a first-person narrator in her depiction of events or interpretations of behavior. Although Estelle is not mad, as many first-person narrators tend to be, she is certainly self-absorbed, and her narration is filtered through her own pathetic perceptual screen. She is never less credible than when she proclaims, “I’m being totally honest.”

Another mark of Atwood’s fiction is her creation of landscapes, such as the horrendous futuristic milieu of Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) or the constricted, myopic anorexia of Marian in The Edible Woman (1969). The landscapes, although consciously penned, tend to register in the unconscious and, consequently, to haunt the reader long after her work is finished. The landscape in this story is not as vividly drawn as that in some others, but one gets an uneasy sense of the drab office, the dreary bar, and the hungry city eager to consume yet another witless victim.

Regardless of one’s final assessment of Estelle and the apparent fact that her current and consequent problems spring from her own beliefs and actions, one is left asking “What if?” That, according to Flannery O’Connor, is the mark of good fiction.