Themes and Meanings
The structure of this tragicomedy suggests an onion that the reader must peel layer by layer to get at the central meaning. Atwood reverses the Brothers Grimm’s “The Robber Bridegroom.” While the fairy tale chronicles the exploits of a sinister bridegroom who destroys young women merely for pleasure, Zenia the bewitching robber bride relishes other women’s men; especially delicious are men belonging to her friends. The Robber Bride examines the incongruity of woman as villain by presenting three engrossing, nice, and well-behaved women. They are reminiscent in some ways of William Shakespeare’s passive, docile, and mad Ophelia, who ends up dead, face down in a river, after having tormented herself in her efforts to please the weak-willed Hamlet. Nice women finish last, Atwood would maintain. Tony, Charis, and Roz provide nurturance, comfort, financial support, sex—anything it takes to please their men—even if it means putting their own needs and desires aside. It is only when the villian Zenia enters the scene that they can come to view their own lives of self-deception, become less agreeable, change, and grow as individuals. They must do battle with Zenia to break free of her control.
Battle strategy and war provide a framework for the novel. Atwood examines not only the war between the sexes but also women’s war against one another. In addition, she posits the idea that military war affects not only the men who actually fight...
(The entire section is 425 words.)