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The Robber Bride

Oct 08, 1999 924 Words
Depending on how you look at Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride, Timson calls it an “upmarket melodrama” whereas Martin refers to it as a novel “confronting politically correct feminism”. The truth is it isn’t either of these. While some of the situations are greatly exaggerated, this book comments on the way that women interact with each other on a day-to-day basis. Atwood tells the story of three women, and how they are drawn together because they have all been double-crossed by a mutual female friend, Zenia. These characters seem so real that in some cases they are reminiscent of actual acquaintances. The male characters in The Robber Bride, however, are dull and lifeless. We never get to know any of them in great detail. On the other hand, Atwood does a wonderful job of describing the setting, which really allows the reader become more involved in the story.

The main message in this novel is that women have drastically different relationships with each other than they do with men. Not being a woman myself makes it difficult for me to determine if this message is true, but nonetheless, Atwood does have a lot to say about the way females deal with each other. The character Roz constantly runs into problems in the business world. “It’s complicated, being a woman boss. Women don’t look at you and think Boss. They look at you and think Woman, as in Just another one, like me, and where does she get off?” The female characters do not “come across as more emblematic than real.” as Timson suggests. Charis decides how her day is going to be by swinging a crystal above her head. This behavior reminds me of an acquaintance who once tried to lecture me on the power of ‘crystal vibrations’. This may be because Atwood’s characters are stereotypes and everyone is bound to know someone like them. However, this realism provides common ground between the reader and the novel, which makes it easier to read.

As Male characters in The Robber Bride are very poor and have absolutely no depth. Or as Timson put it “…and male characters who, it can be argued, are uniformly portrayed as so hapless, brutal or pathetic you could forgive them for forming a support group, leaping off the page and tearing the author from limb to limb.” Their only purpose is to serve as vehicles for the female characters to injure each other. For instance, West barely ever speaks and Tony treats him like a baby, sheltering him from everything and everyone. She believes that it is her job to protect him, and this comes from Zenia almost taking him from her.

This same basic experience with Zenia is common between the three women. She tried to steal each of their husbands, and in some cases, succeeded. It is for this reason these women are drawn together, not because of pain or fear, but because they want to be able to share their thoughts with someone who has gone through the same thing. Simply knowing that someone else has been humiliated in the same way gives these women a sense of comfort. Charis for instance does not even need to talk when she is around Tony and Roz, she just needs their company. Martin described The Robber Bride described as “the closest thing to a sensate interactive video game that comes between two covers” Unfortunately, being very tedious at some points, it does not compare very well at all to a fast-paced video game. In fact, The Robber Bride is the furthest thing from fast-paced as exciting parts are few and far between.

One thing that made the book much more readable was the way in which Atwood described important moments. For instance, when Charis was getting raped as a child, she described her body as “made of something slippery and yellow, like the fat of a gutted hen.” As Martin said, to some extent this detracts you from the real horror that is occurring ,

however, by using this kind of graphic description, the sense of disgust and shock is heightened. This is very effective, because currently people are desensitized by modern media. Atwood just provides that much more material to be shocked by.

Atwood also does an excellent job of creating atmosphere in The Robber Bride. She describes the setting, in this case Toronto, to such an extent that this novel could almost be used as a history textbook. She even goes as far as to name stores along the street and describe their décor. This gives you an excellent visual picture of what is happening in the story. In some parts, Atwood even talks about the recession that was going on in the early nineties, which gives you some insight into people’s attitudes at the time. For example Resonance, the store Charis works at, is being turned into a discount store called Scrimpers. In the end, The Robber Bride delivers a strong message about the relationships between modern-day women. Atwood seems to be telling us that there is a great deal of competition in a woman’s world but there is also a lot of comfort and friendship. I am unsure as to how my male friends would interpret this book, but I feel certain women would easily relate to it.

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