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STUDENT ESSAYS FOR ENGLISH 200 ELECTIVE A1C/A1E: "FACES OF NO-ONE": CONSCIOUSNESS AND CONSCIENCE IN SELECTED WRITINGS OF MARGARET ATWOOD
See essays by
- Sofia Kostelac
- Jessica van Onselen
- Bettina Schultz
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Elective: Faces of No-one: Margaret Atwood
Sofia Kostelac's essay responds to the following topic:
Read Atwood's poems 'The two fires', 'Looking in a mirror', and 'The double voice' (from the Journals of Susanna Moodie). These poems all deal with a split or doubled element: the summer fire/ the winter fire, the voice of manners/ the voice of the 'other knowledge'. Consider the significance of these dichotomies, the way in which the doubled elements interrelate, and the ways in which the binaries in these poems extend some of Atwood's more general concerns.
The Journals of Susanna Moodie are concerned with the conflict of consciousness experienced by a Canadian pioneer, having been uprooted from an English lifestyle and shifted into the emerging Canadian civilisation. The journals are a poetical interpretation of a violent split between two physical worlds. They explore Moodie's literal journey, more explicitly however they deal with the shifting shape of Moodie and her divided self. Atwood examines this divided psychology through dichotomies, dualities and interrelating elements which attest to Moodie's journey into Canada, into the other knowledge and the other self.
This dichotomy created within Moodie due to her literal travels and experience translate into the psychological divide between the depicted self and the hidden self. Moodie, for Atwood, embodies the duality of the represented self and the "self beneath the surface" . This concern emerges consistently throughout Atwood's poetry: even early poems, for example, Against still life, deal with this double element of the self and the desire to discover the "concealed knowledge".
The theorist Jes Simmons defines this double element of the self as the conscious, logical self that Moodie establishes in England and the "other" irrational unconscious self that she discovers in Canada. The double voice is particularly explicit in developing this dichotomy . Atwood's approach to Moodie then, considers the process whereby the individual deals with her search for "the other side of herself, her unconcious, her wilderness self"(1) . The Canadian landscape translates into this irrational self, because it is the dangerous, unrecognised element which the conscious attempts to "paint in water-colours". The passivity of the voice of manners seeks a dichotomy, the counterbalance of the "other" voice. In other words, Moodie's first voice lacks 'wholeness' because it is uninvolved in action: it "speaks of" and "expends upon". It is a voice of avoidance. Moodie's passive self is ill-equipped to deal with the Canadian Wilderness. Thus, if we consider the neccessity of adaptation in order to survive, the new landscape is the ideal context in which to search for and discover the hidden self. The active, irrational unconscious will be able to deal with the active, irrational landscape. Moodie's dichotomies thus set up the possibility for the discovery of the hidden self through the unconscious.
Atwood's dualities are often described as violent, and she does indeed use the potency of juxtaposition throughout her poetry. Furthermore, she often incorporates a layering of dichotomies which has the effect of doubling and splitting the subjects about which she is writing. In The double voice, the macabre image of the festering unborn baby is created, eerie because of the duality which drawn between life and disease. The split voice, the other voice, is divided again - it itself is made up of contradictory element. The image of the unborn child is placed alongside pestering mosquitoes, about which there is "nothing to be done". The "other voice" then, is one of contradiction and inevitability. Atwood dismisses the possibility of a single discourse; that there is one explanation or description of any element. The "other voice" is almost a shattered mirror, multiple reflections of the "other knowledge", sharp and random.
The split element of the two voices are not equal. The absence of dichotomies in the first voice sets up emphasis on the complexities of the "other voice". The first voice is continuous and coherent, out balanced by the multiplicity of the other voice. The dichotomies in this poem therefore set up emphasis on the other knowledge. This interrelation of the split element thus extends upon Atwood's concern with the world below the surface. Awareness is created about the self that is hidden through the "hushed" and "composed" voice of "manners.
Simmons suggests that Atwood sets up these dichotomies of Canada and England, the conscious and the unconscious, in order to extend upon the notion of Moodie's "individuation", that is the integration of the conscious and unconscious. This approach however suggests the possibility for the completion of this process, that the notion of "wholeness" is achievable through the discovery of the "hidden self". This approach however fails to acknowledge the continual split element which operates
in a mentality which acknowledges the unconscious. If "wholeness" is achieved, singularity gradually re-asserts itself. In
Looking in a mirror, Moodie's journey through the "other voice", has integrated her with the nature, and hence the
irrational. She associates her physical person, the original embodiment of her "mannered" self with images of crude nature:
... and instead my skin thickened
... with bark and the white hairs of roots
The divide between her two worlds, the two voices of The double voice is diminishing and the dichotomies are less
explicit. This integration of the two voices, rather than achieving "wholeness" suggests a loss: the eyes are "almost blind"
and "can see / only the wind", her "heirlooms" are "shattered", "decayed" and "stained", all due to the "barbarous" aspects
of the new landscape, and new mentality. Thus, this re-shaping, occurring presumably over the period of "seven years" , is
undercut by a new duality:
.. (you find only
...the shape you already are
...if you have forgotten that
...or discover you
...have never known)
Moodie deals with the destructive aspects of the wilderness and the "other knowledge". The dichotomy is created that
Moodie is reshaped or recreated through destruction, the new knowledge of the self is a "forgotten" knowledge.
The title Looking in a Mirror suggests the impossibility for the two selves of any individual to merge. The mirror represents the dichotomy between the self and the represented self, the hidden self and the facade. The mirror extends notions of surface perceptions, the individual attempting to understand the world and themselves through rational representations of these elements:
...The mouth cracking
...open like a rock in fire
...trying to say
...What is this
Moodie grapples with reflection: it does not, and cannot explain the splits and interrelations of her English and Canadian selves, her conscious and unconscious worlds. The mirror, like language, can only represent our identity, and is, like any representation, inadequate.
In this way, Moodie extends Atwood's concern with the complexities of language and the notion that one language is insufficient to interpret varying landscapes. This inadequacy of language is examined repeatedly throughout the Moodie poems. In the poem Disembarking at Quebec (taken from the first journal), Moodie is a "word in a foreign language". The discourse of her English life is incapable of communication in this new context.
In The two fires, Atwood deals with a doubled element rather than the split elements of The double voice and Looking in a mirror. The two fires do not operate in the same way as the dichotomies of the two voices. The notion of the fire is doubled. The fires are not defined by what makes them different from one another, rather their interrelation is based on their ability to imprison Moodie: The "summer fire" is described as "cutting me off from escape or the saving lake", the "winter fire" as "the carefully made structure/ prisoning us in a cage of blazing bars". The duality functions to create the inevitability of Moodie's entrapment she is entrapped by the two fires, and the conflict of her "two selves".
The dichotomies established in this poem are established between the fires and Moodie's perceptions of them. She is
"informed" by the fires, though they destroy her literal world. It seems the fires awaken within her an understanding of the
duplicity inherent in our perceptions of the rational world:
... (each refuge fails
... us; each danger
... becomes a haven)
The doubled fires reveal the dichotomies inherent in or notions of safety. The establishment of this dichotomy "cast(s) away" the safety of our world of language, the rational world we create through words. The language of her home, the rationality of her house and it's possessions which seemingly contain "logic" and "safety" , is displaced by the double fire and its "white chaos".
The Two Fires become symbols of transformation. Moodie finds growth in the destruction of the fire. The double fire has
left no element of the rational world untampered with, and has disproved its logic: the "proved roofbeams" , the "logic of
windows" and the "structures of protection" become a "cage of blazing bars", they become the binary of their intended
purpose. Finally, growth becomes possible in the absence of this safety and logic promulgated by the rational world: the
... left charred marks
... now around which I
... try to grow
The binaries of destruction and rejuvenation are drawn upon again. The literal fires destroy the ideological world of the rational house. Therein, the possibility of discovering a world beneath the surface is created.
Atwood's doubles and dichotomies which dominate many of the Moodie poems displace the conscious world. They refute our notions of singularity and shatter our logical perceptions. They are the elements which make room for Moodie's growth and transformation. The binaries explore the inadequacy of our rational selves and create the layered, contradictory dimensions of human psychology.
(1) Mendez-Egle, B (Ed), Margaret Atwood: Reflection and Reality (Texas: Pan American University Press, 1987) 139.
Atwood, M The Journals of Susanna Moodie Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1970
Mendez-Egle, B (Ed) Margaret Atwood: Reflection and Reality Texas: Pan American University Press, 1987
JESSICA VAN ONSELEN
Elective: Faces of No-one: Margaret Atwood
Jessica van Onselen looks at the role of seeing and knowing in a selection of Atwood's poems.
In reading Atwood's poetry, I am often left with a sense of her own frustration (or perhaps dissatisfaction is a better word) with the world she views around her. I wondered about the concept of delving below the surface, a concept that obviously fascinates Atwood since she entitled her 1972 novel Surfacing.
I thought too about the mask we present to the world in opposition to our "real" or "inner" selves, brought to life so dazzlingly in her debut novel The Edible Woman. In the book, the lead character Marian constantly represses her true feelings and stifles her scathing observations about her dull fiance Peter and her co-workers at a market research company who represent, for Marian, the grim and limited options available to women in the sixties. ("I don''t consider it feminism; I just consider it social realism.... it is just social reporting. It was written in 1965 and that''s what things were like in 1965." ) In The Edible Woman, Atwood suggests that a fate of boredom, mediocrity and blandness is inevitable for Marian unless she breaks free, and this seems to re-enforce Atwood's interest in mythology - not only myths such as fables and folk-lore, but also myths about modern existence, myths about normality and myths about gender roles. In other words, cultural myths.
Reading her novels and her poetry, it occurred to me that all these themes seem to relate to a central theme in Atwood's work - but most particularly in her poetry, and that is the theme of looking, of seeing, of watching: looking as a form of penetration into a person or situation's deeper levels, looking as a source of frustration and misunderstanding, looking and its links with the notions of visibility and invisibility, looking as a form of control and superiority. With the examination of several of her poems across the years, I will examine how Atwood places enormous emphasis on the eye, and yet constantly highlights the limitations and unreliability of perception. Her relationship with seeing and not seeing is sometimes overt and obvious, sometimes subtle and indirect, but occurs again and again in her work.
Many of Atwood's poems have a real sense of progression about them - her poetry definitely develops a central idea and often tells a story, although this does not mean she shies away from dealing with the cyclic nature of life - indeed, the title alone of her first poetry book, The Circle Game shows how she accepts that progression and development is very often cyclical. Nevertheless, this "progression" often presents us with the scenario where a subject is looking but not truly seeing or understanding what is being looked at, and then looking harder, further, deeper, more intensely and thus having more revealed to the subject about the object. This results in a more complex and rewarding understanding of the person or situation being examined.
Her poem, Against Still Life - a poem very close to my heart - illustrates this well. The poem is (on a very simplistic level) about the frustration of looking at and attempting to appreciate a still-life painting. Atwood is dissatisfied with the gross reductionalism of the two-dimensional painting of an orange because it can never capture the complexities and sensuality of the reality. She then extends this comparison to her lover, or a loved one at least, and describes her need to taste him and experience all of him, to "crack his skull" to get inside and know his real thoughts.
By choosing to name a style of visual art ("Still Life") in the title of her poem, Atwood immediately summons up connotations of looking. The painting's title, implied by the first line "Orange in the middle of a table," summons up the image of a painting which ought to be viewed passively - but Atwood challenges this way of looking at once. She writes:
"It isn't enough/ to walk around it/ at a distance, saying/ it's an orange/ nothing to do/ with us, nothing/ else: leave it alone."
Atwood seeks instinctually to know more about this orange, she wants to see more than is initially presented to her. She does not wish to look only at the exterior and the superficial, but wants to see the hidden depths, to see right through this painting. Similarly, Atwood describes her lover's silences as "orange" - in other words as superficial and impenetrable as the two-dimensional representation of the orange. Refusing to accept this, Atwood wants to see more of him, to "get a look inside" and by gaining this in-sight, to truly get to know him.
This linguistic and ideological link between sight and knowledge is as old as the English language itself, and Atwood uses this connection frequently in her work. Not only are the words "Eye" and "I" phonetically identical in English, but our idioms re-enforce the Western cultural belief that sight equals knowledge: "Seeing is believing"; "There is none so blind as he that will not see"' "Out of sight, out of mind". Even the word "omniscient" means "all-knowing and all-seeing" - two entirely different concepts which are considered completely interchangeable.
Atwood's poetry often plays on the idea that if one looks with care and true determination, new knowledge will be revealed to the looker. In Against Still Life she writes, "If I watch/ quietly enough/ and long enough/at last you will say ... all I need to know." Similarly, in This Is A Photograph Of Me she writes, "It is difficult to say where/ precisely, or to say/ how large or small I am.... but if you look long enough,/ eventually/ you will be able to see me." Looking deeply and patiently can be a form of penetration into a person's soul, or can reveal a new angle on a picture one assumed one understood.
This new way of looking also ties in with Atwood's fascinating notions of visibility and invisibility in her poetry. Her poem The Wereman from The Journals of Susanna Moodie, deals explicitly with sight and seeing and the faith that one places in one's own perception of other people. The title is a play on words: instead of entitling it "The Werewolf" but the "The Wereman" she is drawing on the myth of the man who turns into a wolf at full moon, while still placing emphasis on his human-ness.
She writes about her husband as he goes hunting, "Unheld by my sight/ what does he change into?" This forces one to recall a reaction one observes in very small babies - the belief that if they cannot see you and you are out of their sight, you cease to exist; the philosophical theories of epistemologists come to mind, who posed the question "If a tree falls in a forest and there is no-one there to hear it, does it make a noise?" "Unheld" by her sight, is Susanna's husband the same as when she can see him? Or perhaps she has just created "an idea of him" - a false construction of who and what he really is. Atwood's persona is doubting her interpretation of what her eye tells her she can see, and wonders if "the truth" lies in invisibility - what she can''t see.
Atwood's lines, "he may change me also/ with the fox eye, the owl/ eye, the eightfold/ eye of the spider" force one to start to wonder whether different creatures see the world differently and - by extension of this line of thinking - if their inherent natures (although of course whether there is such a thing as inherent nature is an essay within itself) and their roles in nature affect how they view the world. The owl holds mythological connotations of wisdom and is known to have extremely sharp vision. The fox is representative of cunning, trickery, deviousness and perhaps sees the world accordingly - as his prey to play with. The spider sees the world in a way which we, as humans, find more difficult to relate to - through eight eyes. Atwood''s persona - Susanna - relates all these different perspectives back to her husband, wondering how he sees her, which "eye" in particular is he seeing her through?
In this poem, Atwood is challenging the slightly arrogant belief that what we see and how we see is "normal" and "the truth". By using indirect comparison she is asking us whether the way the owl sees, or the fox sees, or the spider sees is not the "normal" way. The poem, The Wereman is perhaps more about Susanna and Atwood's growing distrust of sight and the process of seeing.
Returning to ideas of visibility and invisibility, the poem Backdrop Addresses Cowboy is, for me, Atwood's most powerful statement about our assumptions about The Natural State Of Things, and about how our collective eye has been conditioned to accept that a certain status quo is Normal. Whether Atwood intended it or not, this poem confronts
patriarchal and colonial ideology, forcing the reader to examine and give credit to the background, the backdrop - the marginalised and traditionally "unimportant" surroundings.
She begins the poem by painting the picture of a cowboy for us, and her portrayal is not favourable - words like "sauntering", "tugging", "righteous", "heroic" and "laconic" immediately make us critical and wary of this figure. Her phrase "your righteous eyes," referring to the cowboy, captures precisely how this male figure views the world - it is his for the taking. He is the centre of all, and morally superior to those around him. He is brave, strong, dominant and in control and thus he deserves the world's attention and adoration. Again, it is interesting to note that Atwood ties in ideology to sight: the transferred epithet gives his eyes - his means of sight - a righteous quality. Atwood is linking how we think psychologically with how we view the word physically. Sight is power and sight is knowledge.
After this description of what we assume to be the central figure - the masculine cowboy - she then begins to write about herself, describing herself in terms of vast and broad and unconfinable things - "I am elsewhere"; "I am the horizon"; "I am also what surrounds you" "I am the space you desecrate/ as you pass through." The eye generally accepts these things as nothing more significant or worthy of interest than the surroundings, the frame which contains the object of true interest - but Atwood challenges this way of seeing as before. The backdrop is what makes the cowboy - the background sacrifices its own rightful place for the sake of the cowboy and his moment of glory. She has re-directed our attention back to the spaces, the gaps, the holes and made us rethink whether or not there is significance in that which encloses and surrounds, just as there is poetry in silence and as well as in words.
Atwood also looks at the preconception that woman should be passive observers, thus taking a secondary and nonessential role, while men are the active heros. Emphasising looking once again, Atwood writes, "I ought to be watching/ from behind a cliff or a cardboard storefront/ when the shooting starts, hands clasped/ in admiration". Men should be watched doing admirable and enviable things, while women "ought to be" viewing them. But, as Atwood writes, "I am elsewhere." Here Atwood is rejecting looking as a means of retaining control. If she were to conform and merely watch the almighty cowboy sauntering around this town compliantly, she would be surrendering control and undermining her own worth. She asserts that she does not have to accept the role of passive looker, and she asserts her presence as more than something that must simply be watched and seen as the centre of the action, but rather as something larger and more natural - "the thing you can never lasso."
Margaret Atwood''s poetry explores many themes in the most fascinating and original ways, with imagery that startles and dazzles, touches and pokes but is deeply rewarding because it continuously challenges dominant and accepted beliefs with a most subtle and novel approach. Her constant play with the idea of sight and seeing, watching and being watched makes the reader of her poetry constantly rethink his or her own ways of seeing, and the perceptions and ideologies which underlie that way of seeing.
1) Atwood, M Poems: 1965 - 1975 London: Virago Press 1991
2) Ingersoll, E.G (editor) Margaret Atwood: Conversations London: Virago Press 1992
Bettina Schultz's essay is titled 'Dreams of Animals'.
Margaret Atwood's animals dream and are dreamt of. They inhabit the wilderness and the body. The consciousness is their lair, the heart their hollow. They pulse and scuttle through memory. The animals are themselves, the 'other', the self and the unconscious; nature's resistance and the colonised and defeated.
In the poem "Dreams of the Animals" Atwood opposes the dreams of animals in their natural state with those of caged animals placed in a human world.
Each animal dreams "according to its kind". The moles, frogs, fish and birds dream of their own worlds of darkness, light, smell and sound. Their dreams are continuous with their realities and reflect their natural environments and ways of perceiving them. The order seems undisrupted and there is a sense of oneness and harmony. Their dreams are self-referential, their identities intact. The worlds they inhabit are primal: the darkness and the earth of the mole, the "green and golden" lives of the frogs, likened to suns, the underwater struggle of "defence" and "attack" and the airy "territories" of birds.
These dreams are opposed to the nightmares and dreams of "evil" evoked by humans. The hand taking the mouse out of its cage (to caress or to torture?) is a "huge pink shape with five claws", a new predator. The caged animals in an urban world lead lives of "soap and metal", of clinical, man-made materials. Atwood imbues them with nobility and preciousness ("silver fox", "royal-eyed") which starkly contrasts with their mundane surroundings. The fox dreams of escape. Remembering a different world, she is aware of the dislocation and still dreams in her old language of digging, despite what is probably a concrete floor of the zoo. The baby foxes possibly allude to a violent memory of when she was captured.
The armadillo has no dreams, having either forgotten completely or been driven insane by memory. His "figure-eights" trace the tracks of the train station that is his home and his "piglet feet", allude to other caged, domestic animals. The iguana is described as regal in a destroyed and diminished "kingdom", lakes replaced by a "waterdish" and trees by "sawdust". His reality is this. He knows nothing else or has forgotten that there ever was anything else and dreams of his caged world.
All three animals trapped in the human world are on display. They are 'exotic' animals from foreign places, kept in an urban environment to be looked at or bought by people, reminiscent of the colonial 'other'. They represent different degrees of dislocation and forgetting.
Writing about the animals that "dream of other animals", Atwood is more general in her description, treating the animal behaviour as essential as opposed to the specificity of "the" fox, armadillo and iguana that live in very specific places (e.g. "St. Catherine Street").This throws up questions of identity: what is a fox without a burrow and an iguana without its rock? The generic frog or bird is contrasted with individual animals, increasing the sense of isolation and alienation.
Dreams are not generally attributed to animals. They are a very human preoccupation and taken to signify different things. They are seen as synonymous with aspirations, hopes and desires. In Jungian psychology they represent our subconscious, expressing more subliminal, irrational thoughts and primal impulses. In this sense they could be seen as a meeting point between humans and other animals; a common language of images and colours. In this poem dreams are the indicators of identity and reflect the distinct ways in which the world is experienced by different creatures. They show up the unnatural urban life that humankind has created around itself and the insensitivity towards animals becomes emblematic of a loss of connectedness with nature. The reader identifies with the animals' feelings of entrapment and yearning for a more dignified, natural state. The gradual loss of memory of what it is to be an animal traces the human development away from our origins implying a loss of a sense of our true nature, of what it is we should be dreaming of.
In The Journals of Susanna Moodie Atwood shows the human in the animal world. She speaks as the pioneer, Moodie, who has moved from London's urban environment to the Canadian wilderness. This significantly reverses Atwood's biography, having spent her early years in the wild before moving to Toronto with her family. "Departure from the Bush", the last poem in the first part of the journals, speaks of the failure of reforging the lost link with nature.
The poetic "I" talks of having been erased by fire. This probably refers to Moodie's house having burned down. Hence she equates her identity and existence with the structure that was her home, built by humans in the bush, an attempt at bringing their culture to the wilderness and taming it. It could not resist the forces of nature and by implication neither could she. But something like a ruin of herself seems to have survived, into which the animals slowly move like a new burrow. Like the "green" of the new grass covering burnt earth, the animals start filling in the spaces of the self that had been hollowed out by the destruction becoming part of her. They come "two by two" in a biblical image of her body as a vessel like Noah's arc. This evokes notions of all the animals in the world finding their representatives in her, a kind of collective of nature or collective unconscious. It is unclear what form the deluge will take; perhaps the encroachment of humans and urbanity on the wilderness. Atwood certainly sets up the opposition of civilisation and nature in many of her poems. Or else the answer may lie in the poem "Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer from The Circle Game: "If he had known unstructured/ space is a deluge/ and stocked his log house-/ boat with all the animals/ even the wolves/ he might have floated". Hence, embracing through the animals comes a certain knowledge or mechanism to survive the forces of nature.
She is, however, too "heavy" for such a vessel. This could be seen to mean that she is still too burdened with her own humanity, too encumbered with the clutter of civilisation to allow herself to be fully inhabited. This reflects a notion often encountered in Atwood's work, of multiple identities. Although she speaks of herself as having been erased, she is still there to be inhabited. Something lingers, there is still an "I" that is afraid of the "eyes" inside her. The assimilation of the animal is not complete. Her positioning is still alien, her eyes have not completely adapted to seeing in the dark as her perception is still mediated: she " could not see without a lantern"
However, she is not entirely of the city either. She has no clothes left to wear, nothing to cover her natural state and allow her to conform to 'civilised' norms. Her move to the city has an involuntary, inevitable quality to it, reflected in how the tracks of the sleigh "push" her forward, toward her world, away from her primitive origins. The gap was not breached and the animals leave her without her "having learned" from them."There is something they almost taught me"
If "The Dreams of the Animals" is about humans invading animals' lives, then "Departure from the Bush" is about the colonisation of the coloniser. The animals are unspecified and used more metaphorically to represent the wilderness as it confronts the human on a one-to-one basis without the protection of civilisation. The wild creeps in and reclaims some of the old territory, long forgotten by modern 'man'. Like the colonialists the animals move in and attempt to take over in an internal struggle for control. The primal state is, however, not regained and the potential for a new form of knowledge remains untapped. The animals are the silent carriers of this knowledge but it is as if one would have to relinquish the self completely in order to learn it. Ultimately, there is an unbridgeable rift between nature and humanity.
This internal battle is again fought in a later poem, "The Woman makes Peace with her Faulty Heart". Here we find the 'narrator' addressing her own heart as if it was an animal within her. The animal element is equated with an organ essential to but also dependent on the survival of the body and mind. This co-dependency is a point of frustration as there seems to be no hope of unity with, nor liberation from the other.
The heart is treated as the custodian of memory and the locus of destruction and hate. It is treacherous, deceitful and "greedy" like a vulture, self-destructive like a "cannibal eagle" and poisonous like a scorpion. The animals are used to symbolise the instinctual, brutal and savage side of human nature, something the protagonist wants to dissociate herself from because she cannot control or grasp it. Significantly, Atwood uses this animal imagery to describe something essential to human and animal life. There is a struggle with these natural elements at the core of her being that cannot be resolved, a duality inherent in the human condition.
The heart is also traditionally said to be the emotional centre of a person as opposed to the rational centre of the brain. Hence Atwood seems to be saying that emotionally and biologically we are still very much connected with the animal world.
"Landcrab I" traces the ontological connection between humans and animals. The crab is identified with a primordial state and identified as a link to our ancestry and the origins of life. It is described simultaneously as a reflection of the protagonist's self, her "child" and her "tiny nightmare". Again the animal inhabits multiple worlds (dream, present reality and a prehistoric times) and forms part of her identity.
In "Dream 2: Brian the Still-Hunter ( also published in The Journals of Susanna Moodie ) there is an almost mythical melding of man and animal, while the hunter encounters Moodie in a dream. In "Wish: Metamorphosis to Heraldic Emblem" from the same anthology, ageing is portrayed as being reclaimed by nature: "wrinkles branch out, overlapping like hair or feathers". The old woman speaks of changing into a new, "uncorroded" and "fiery" creature, like a phoenix rising from the ashes with renewed life to start a new cycle, a kind of resurrection. This will. significantly occur underground, the place of her burial but also the secret realm of caves and "roots". It is almost like a return to her origins in animal-form. The metamorphosis seems to be a further change, that closes the circle of evolution as she regains a more primal state. This realm of "crystal darkness" is like the underworld, a substratum of her present existence. This reality under the surface emerges in different ways throughout Atwood's poetry.
"Things/ refused to name themselves; refused/ to let him name them." (Atwood:"Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer".The Circle Game.1966) This underlying reality cannot be known through words because it is of a different language. The animals are always silent yet knowing. They have qualities of prelapsarian innocence while retaining their wild and often violent characteristics. They seem to function in a space beyond morality and sin , evoking fear.
Atwood writes down their silence that is prior to our words. Her animals are never romanticised yet portrayed as the romantic holders of a secret knowledge which could possibly end the alienation that marks Atwood's human world.
"I need wolf's eyes to see/ the truth" ( 'Further Arrivals".The Journals of Susanna Moodie.1970)
Atwood, M. 1966. The Circle Game
Atwood, M. 1970. The Journals of Susanna Moodie. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Atwood, M. 1992. Poems 1976- 1986. London:Virago
Atwood, M. 1977. The Poetry and Voice of Margaret Atwood . audiocassette. New York: Harper Collins