The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Three of the primary characters of Margaret Atwood’s novel grow as individuals throughout, but the central character, Zenia, remains a trope, forever the evil villainess. With the exception of Roz’s son Larry and Tony’s husband West, the male characters show no signs of growth. In this sense, Atwood demonstrates a talent for character development while keeping within her thematic framework.

Tony, a mass of contradictions, captures the reader’s interest immediately. Physically diminutive, she is a mental giant, an expert in siege techniques of the Middle Ages. A nurturer, homebody, and flower collector, she specializes in the study of war—the bloodier the battles the better. Abandoned by her philandering war-bride mother, she is reared by an indifferent, abusive, alcoholic father (who in time commits suicide) and learns at an early age to fend for herself. Tony’s penchant for reversing words is merely her way of taking on a compensatory identity. She approaches her relationship with her weak and dependent husband West with almost servile appreciation, taking on the role of his protector but feeling all the while incompetent in Zenia’s shadow.

Charis, the psychic, herb-growing earth-mother, floats through life thinking well of everyone and diffusing any oppressive thoughts that might put her in touch with her justified rage. It is not until Charis’s background is revealed that readers behold her actions as psychological defense...

(The entire section is 567 words.)