Margaret Atwood's poem is sixteen words, eighteen syllables, four lines, and two stanzas long, barely longer than a haiku. It is printed without punctuation or capitalization, and the title is the same as the first line (often printed in square brackets to emphasize that it is mere repetition). The poem consists of two images—or perhaps one should say that it is one image changed, distorted, or clarified in the second stanza.
The poem's first stanza gives a simple image, though an artificial one. A hook-and-eye fastening is one of the simplest ways of holding garments together. It has been used at least since the fourteenth century and was particularly common in women's garments designed to restrict and constrict the body, the most obvious example being the corset. Even today, one is most likely to encounter a hook-and-eye fastening on the back of a woman's brassiere.
The image of the hook and eye in the first stanza, therefore, is superficially a reference to two things that fit together perfectly. Such images are common in love poetry and often include food pairings (e.g., "we go together like strawberries and cream"). However, there are several things to notice about this particular pairing. One is that, as mentioned above, the purpose of the hook-and-eye fastening is generally to constrict a woman's body. The second is that this image somehow manages to be both domestic and coldly mechanical. A hook and eye is the type of image that might occur to a woman used to thinking about clothes and perhaps even making her own, but it is not a particularly charming or romantic object: two cold, functional pieces of metal gripping together.
Finally, there is the fact that most of these traditional romantic pairings, like strawberries and cream, leave it ambiguous as to who is the strawberries and who is the cream. It would seem pedantic to ask, for they merge into each other perfectly in exactly the way a hook and eye do not. The hook and eye, on the other hand, cling together but remain separate, although the hook penetrates the eye. The potential violence of this image is underscored by the speaker's phrasing. She does not say, "we fit together." Instead, she says, "you fit into me."
Although there is much to analyze in this image, part of the poem's effectiveness is in its sheer brevity. Before one has noticed much about the first image apart from its literal meaning, one moves on to the shock of the second image. The visceral horror of this is difficult to overstate. The...
(The entire section is 665 words.)