Footnote to the Amnesty Report on Torture

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Melanie Colvin
Description of a Footnote to a Report
An amnesty report is an inventory of crimes committed against humanity. Amnesty International has made reports in Ghana and several other countries where atrocities are committed. They then report back to the United Nations, who then decides if action is necessary. In the case of Margaret Atwood’s poem “Footnote to the Amnesty Report on Torture,” the amnesty report is delivered in a very different way.

This poem is about, in short, someone’s perception of a torture chamber. It is a less-than-glorified description of the room and the events that occur there. The speaker is really just a narrator; there is absolutely nothing to learn about him/her based on the text. But the narrator does seem to know the thoughts of a man, an employee at the institution that has this chamber. His job is to clean up the chamber where they conduct the torture. He has children, or had them at some point. This is proven by the last three lines of the seventh stanza, “his children/ with their unmarked skin and flawless eyes/ running to meet him.” The man seems to be older, based on the graphic and jaded imagery. The institution seems to be political in nature, based on the fact that people are thrown onto “the Consul’s lawn,” and the mention of bureaucrats always being bored. Since it is the voice of one man working for the government, it is an interesting combination of the public and private view of life. Though the janitor’s opinion is the one we hear, it is his opinion of a public institution torturing people.

The speaker’s opinion of the actual act of torture is surprisingly absent. He mentions no cause or reason for the torture, so he does not deem the act necessary. The only opinion of the act the readers hear at all is that “The man who cleans the floors/ is glad it isn’t him.” The imagery Atwood uses in this poem is very typical of what readers think of when hearing about torture. The gruesomeness of the...
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