Margaret Atwood is once of Canada’s best known literary composers. She is best known for her ability as an author of novels such as Alias Grace, Bodily Harm, Hairball, Rape Fantasies, and the highly acclaimed The Handmaid’s Tale, which was later made into a movie. These works establish her as a feminist writer, raising issues of women in literature, the difficulties associated with being female and the role of women in society.
The feminist movement began in the 1960s, as women’s groups searched for equality in the workplace. The movement resulted in the increased participation of women in the paid workforce, and the widening of career opportunities from traditional occupations such as teaching, nursing and secretarial work.
Atwood was influential during this movement. Through her literary work, she expressed her views about, and generated support for feminism. She campaigned against the oppression of women and pushed for equal rights in all aspects of life. However, she opposed extremist feminist ideals such as dressing like men and having male hairstyles in order to demonstrate the fact that men and women could be the same.
In Spotty-handed Villainesses, Atwood raises the issue of the role women should take in society, as portrayed through literature. She raised the issue during the ongoing clash between the feminist and anti-feminist movement, making it a very topical and widely discussed oration.
Spotty-handed Villainesses deals with the issue of feminism and the perceived view of it being evil. She attempted to provide her audience with an entertaining insight into the portrayal of women, especially female villains in novels, short stories and plays. In delivering her oration, she also found it necessary to outline the aims of fiction and trace the process by which it is created. Her purpose in the first part of the speech is to explore the scope and genres of fiction.
From this point, Atwood then explores the pressing issue of feminism’s influence on literature. She found it necessary to lend support to the movement which had resulted in a wide array of female characters being portrayed in fiction. However, she differentiates herself from the extreme feminists, criticising their view that evil women should not be depicted in literature.
She found it important to establish the idea that it some women should be portrayed as evil in literature because this would be a reflection of society, as well as good women. Her aim in the second part of the speech is then to defend the current portrayal of both good and bad women in fiction and to differentiate herself from the feminist movement.
Atwood’s speech deals with the issue of the portrayal of women in literature, their role in society and the impact feminism has had upon this area. In dealing with these issues she uses various techniques, including cumulative listing, allusions, metaphors, similes, anecdotes, paradox and rhetorical questions.
Role of Women in Society
Atwood explores the changing role of women in society in her speech, through the investigation of the portrayal of female characters in literature, and the changes they have undergone over time. She recounts the history of fictional women in literature, from Shakespeare’s Regan and Goneril in King Lear, the Victorian “little girl with a curl”, to modern female characters such as those in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”. Atwood praises the women’s movement for expanding the roles of women in literature and in society, but she also criticises them for limiting the reality of this portrayal.
Literature reflecting reality
Atwood also investigates the links between literature and reality. The fundamental difference between literature and reality, she suggests, is that in literature “something has to happen”. Literature...