Monday, April 2, 2018

Margaret Atwood

I first read Margaret Atwood's stories collected in BLUEBEARD'S EGG AND OTHER STORIES when I was in high school! This astonishes me now to consider, as I didn't come from a particularly literary family or community. How did I come to possess this soft-cover book, which still sits on my book shelf? I have no idea, but I'll never forget its impact, or how Margaret Atwood came to be one of the few writers I consider "my favorites."

THE HANDMAID'S TALE is the novel that catapulted her to international fame (she's from Canada), and I love this book, but you have to read these: THE MADDADAM TRILOGY (pure literary sci-fi), CAT'S EYE (coming-of-age girls and their evil ways), THE BLIND ASSASSIN (weaving three different genres of writing), THE ROBBER BRIDE (fantastic psychological ghost story). I've read others of her 17 novels, but these are my favorites. And she has published books of poetry. Not to mention 10 books of short fiction. Oh. My.

I saw her speak once. Already in her late seventies (this was several years ago, at AWP), she was dynamite. Fiercely political, intellectual, straightforward, and terribly witty: and these traits definitely figure in the stories you're reading for the online class.

"Happy Endings" is a tour-de-force of metafiction and modern self-consciousness, a statement on storytelling and ontology. It was included in a collection called MURDER IN THE DARK (1983).

But for your blog comment, please focus on "True Trash." Along with "Wilderness Tips," it appeared in Atwood's 1991 collection called WILDERNESS TIPS. This story contemplates the stereotypical romance novel and plays with its tropes. How does Atwood fool with the reader's expectation (class bias, anyone) and does her story succeed?

If you wish to comment on "Wilderness Tips," perhaps you'll consider how this story plays with one character's life history in contrast to another's (again, note the class and national bias).

10 comments:

  1. In True Trash, each part of the story plays with the traditional romance novel trope, but I want to focus primarily on the characters. The women specifically are created in a binary -- there is no choice for them, they can only be one thing. These women, the waitresses, Ronette, and Joanne, are objectified and reduced. I think this is an interesting way to develop these characters, because it forces audiences to contemplate the things that they have read, and how those (beloved) things can challenge the experiences we have, and the relationships we cultivate in real life. But aside from the women, Donny falls into a binary as well. He feels he is supposed to objectify the women he is around, falls into a pressure. He still reduces Ronette to the binary in which she falls, but he does break the binary when he gets upset at Darce objectifying Ronnette. I believe this story was successful, however, I am fearful that this story, should it fall into the hands of someone who misunderstands the purpose of it, could end up perpetuating stereotypes and biases (both in writing and in life).

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  2. Both Wilderness Tips and True Trash directly address the romantic stereotypes that we see everyday in literature. Even going as far as too directly address how the endings of these stories to the reader as to how bad they are. I feel like this plays directly into the bias that Atwood is trying to expose. We've become so accustomed to these manufactured endings where everything turns out happy and our main characters learn something profound. But that is not what happens in reality. It is a bit of metafiction in a way. Letting the reader in on the joke and playing around with it.

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  3. In "True Trash," Atwood tries to play with expectation (in this case, the expectation of the mythic romantic summer) by showing the beginning, middle, and end. Most romance stories - whether films or what have you - cut themselves off just when everything culminates together. Maybe there's an epilogue that lets things peter out. But "True Trash?" You see the whole thing from beginning to end, and despite everyone's obsession with how their story is told she doesn't let one voice dominate over the other. Everyone competes to mark off an ending and Atwood doesn't grant any of them victory.

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  4. "True Trash", Atwood sets her story in a setting that both reduces class barriers (a wilderness camp for young boys) and that also reinforces them (it's solely for privileged young boys and has waitresses. As Atwood says, 'Roughing it builds a boy's character, but only certain kinds of roughing it.' (46) Hence the waitresses at a camp that also does week long canoe tours.) This parallels the 'summer romance' tropes that Atwood is playing with it in the first place. The main (if you can call them that) point of view characters are Joanne and Donny. From the very first moment, we expect that we'd find these characters consumed with thoughts of summer romance, and in a way Joanne is, with her romantic idea that she isn't going to live past thirty, which is very in line with 19th century romance novels and those histrionics. But she resists the advances of Perry on their double date. In addition, when we see the waitresses reading their romance story, Ronette is the only one that asks why it's funny, signaling her distance from sex. This is further reinforced in Donny's point of view, where he spies on the waitresses and thinks that he's only supposed to be interested in their bodies, but he's interested in what they're reading. This disinterest in both Donny's point of view and in Ronette's dialogue makes it all the more shocking for the reader when we find out that Donny and Ronette slept together, and when Joanne finds out that Ronette is pregnant. This playing with summer romance tropes, where the leads are obsessed with romance and nothing else, and this playing with class boundaries makes "True Trash" a satisfying story.

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  5. I read the Introduction by Percival Everett, and I have to agree with the "Three Little Pigs" similarity for "Wilderness Tips". The story plays with the idea of sexual power in relationships. I found it interesting that each of the sister's life history is viewed much better from the other sister's eyes. Portia envied Prue and wanted to be just like her. Prue enjoyed the challenge of trying to get under George's skin. Pamela used language to survive (somewhat) against George's prowess. I just found it interesting how "the guy always get the girl" is portrayed in this weird story. Atwood played with the idea of at least having woman withhold from George, but that didn't make it. I found it interesting how Roland saw what was going on but felt antiquate to the point where he didn't do anything. George does turn out to be the big bad wolf, and Roland is lost to figure out which sister to save. It's definitely an ending most people wouldn't expect.

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  6. I didn't feel, personally, that the ending of True Trash was a surprise. It seemed like Atwood was leading us there all along, and as long as you don't allow yourself to be led along by what's considered 'normal', Donny being the father makes sense. It's hinted at the whole time. The only way it would be a surprise is if you ruled out the possibility due to age, and status, which I suppose is what Atwood wanted readers to do. But the story had to be about something, and the drama wasn't coming from anywhere else. Maybe reading the blog entry first set me up to predict what would happen while I was reading.

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  7. Unfortunately I couldn't find my book, and the only pieces online that I have seen have paywalls. The only one of the three pieces I was able to read was Happy endings which is one I am familiar with, and one I love. Based on the comments I've read so far, specifically Sages, Savanna's and Angela's, it seems that what Atwood is getting at in Happy Endings, is touched on also in true trash. The idea that beginnings, are more fun, but what happens in the middle, the how and why, are always what draws you back. It seems that the way in which she argues against looking at things through any one lens, while simultaneously accepting that you cannot look at anything objectively is a hallmark of the pieces. Containing her audience within her voice, while also setting them free to think about how what she's saying personally applies to them, by making them uncomfortable or confused also seems to thread through each. Atwood does a remarkable job of not mentioning to much, and making the reader say the rest. She's clearly meaningful, no matter what perspective you read her from, you learn something about yourself, due to the polarizing, yet controlled realistic and relatable content. She gives the reader space to criticize themselves in a way that is constructive.

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  8. In "True Trash", Atwood creates a story set in a Hollywood-esque romantic summer camp. She creates a neighborhood of characters that were templated into stereotypical roles, yet she lets each character's voice dominate when it is his/her turn to speak. I think this story works well because even though the stereotypes are heavily emphasized, I think that is the point. The end of the story, Joanne thinks to herself about how "the story" of Rosette becoming pregnant and finding out who it is is "an archaic story, a folk-tale, a mosaic artifact" in itself. This to me was metafiction because Joanne is pointing out the fact that "True Trash" is something we all have seen before and is nothing new. Interestingly enough, towards the beginning of the story, the waitresses are reading a "Moan-o-drama" as coined by Joanne, yet Hilary calls the story True Trash, once again pointing to the fact that this story itself is meant to be cheesy. I can agree with Honor that if the actual purpose of this story is not understood, people will take it for what it is and accept it as "the way things are."

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  9. "True Trash" seems to be commenting on what being "trashy" actually means. It displays this virgin/whore binary in its characters ("virgin" not necessarily in a literal sense), particularly through Ronette and Joanne, and the contrasts between them. Ronette, the "whore," is ruthlessly objectified by the male characters in the story, and never actually gets a voice of her own. She is cheap and easy and only defined by the way men perceive and use her. But at the same time, she's portrayed as very strong, constantly fighting stigma surrounding sexuality, and even deciding to keep her illegitimately-conceived baby. She remains a very complex and free character throughout the piece. Joanne, on the other hand, is the typical "good girl," the loyal girlfriend who understands that her purity is her value in the world. However, she reads the same trashy magazine as Ronette, secretly wishing she could be like her, wishing she could be free of the misogynistic rules of society. The entire story seems to be trying to say that the puritanical, misogynistic societal expectations of women are not only insanely damaging, but also totally socially constructed, and that women should fight back against them simply by refusing to participate and instead making their own choices and loving themselves for them.

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  10. Margaret Atwood fascinates me. I love so much of her work (heck, I have a Handmaid’s Tale tattoo), but yet other pieces of hers fail to capture and fascinate me, and this I think is the hallmark and best part of her writing. She never seems to write the same thing or the same way twice, meaning that she is truly an author for all tastes. I love it.
    True Trash was intriguing but not my favorite. The story wasn’t as fresh or compelling as I wanted it to be, and it didn’t hold my interest very deeply. I do love, however, how it turned to a piece of metafiction towards the end, and got fairly deep. I enjoyed the reflective pieces and the voices of the characters at the end. I also really love “Happy Endings,” but I think that goes without saying.

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