Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of “The Sin-Eater” establishes from the story’s start the symbolic importance of those who sacrifice themselves for others’ sins, and the story opens with a remembered conversation between the narrator and her psychiatrist. At first, readers are as shocked and disturbed by images of eating in the presence of a corpse as the narrator is. That this person is also symbolically devouring the dead person’s sins is even more morbid.

The narrator’s journey toward self-identity emerges in a series of remembered conversations between her and Joseph that are clearly and precisely portrayed with vivid details. As she searches for meaning, her self-addressed questions reveal a pattern. In every instance, her attempts to get treatment, support, or understanding from Joseph led to his interrupting her in order to catalog his own problems with women and their lack of understanding, as well as his fatigue and the resentment that he directed at his demanding patients.

As the narrator compares Joseph’s self-image and view of his life to the realities of his life that are revealed by the comments of his former wives and patients, she recognizes that his life was a sham. This leads to her dream, which brilliantly symbolizes the nature of their relationship. She emerges strong, independent, and courageous, no longer needing a father figure to protect her.

By showing all Joseph’s former wives and patients in one room, Atwood...

(The entire section is 424 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Biography. Toronto, Ontario: ECW Press, 1998.

Hengen, Shannon. Margaret Atwood’s Power: Mirrors, Reflections, and Images in Select Fiction and Poetry. Toronto, Ontario: Sumach Press, 1993.

Nischik, Reingard, ed. Margaret Atwood: Works and Impact. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2000.

Stein, Karen F. Margaret Atwood Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1999.

Wilson, Sharon, Thomas Friedman, and Shannon Hengen, eds. Approaches to Teaching Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Other Works. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1996.