Wilderness Tips

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In WILDERNESS TIPS, her second volume of short stories, Margaret Atwood reworks themes, ideas, and motifs from her earlier work but also calls into question the nature of narrative itself. Her protagonists, for the most part women, appear as storytellers within the story and manipulate language for their own purposes—dealing not only with current problems but also with predatory males. Occasionally, the males are editors, and have the power to betray, frustrate, or replace the feminist discourse. For Atwood, language confers the power to survive within the “wilderness,” which is both geographical and emotional, even moral. In the title story, an author confidently informs his 1905 reading audience about how to survive in the wilderness; such assurance is not possible for Atwood, whose “wilderness tips” are tentatively and ambiguously presented through characters who must confront real life, realize their identity, and persevere despite sensing that it’s “coming apart.”

In her ten stories set essentially in contemporary Canada, Atwood describes the impact of the past on the present. In “Bog Man” and “The Age of Lead” she compares and contrasts the preserved bodies of men with contemporary males and indicates not only the superiority of the past but also its influence on the future—“the age of lead” refers not only to the lead cans that killed earlier polar explorers but also to the present age of chemical pollutants. In...

(The entire section is 412 words.)