AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Versions of the Gothic in Margaret Atwood's fiction

by Gail Frances Friesen

Institution: University of Tasmania
Year: 1990
Keywords: Atwood; Margaret Eleanor; 1939-; Gothic revival (Literature); English fiction
Record ID: 1032727
Full text PDF: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/19613/1/whole_FriesenGailFrances1993_thesis.pdf


This thesis discusses chronologically, the adaptation and transformation of the Gothic in four of Margaret Atwood's novels, namely Surfacing, Lady Oracle, Bodily Harm and The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood's versions of the gothic run the gamut from serious to comical but even while parodying the conventions of the gothic, and exposing the 'perils of gothic thinking', Atwood never loses sight of the underlying seriousness of the subject. While there are elements of the female gothic experience throughout the four novels, each presents a specific gothic focus. Atwood concentrates on the psychological victimisation of the individual in Surfacing and Lady Oracle, but on the more literal victimisation by society in Bodily Harm and The Handmaid's Tale. The heroines who are psychologically imprisoned within a negative self image in the first two novels are literally imprisoned in the later novels. And whereas the heroines of Surfacing and Lady Oracle transform the ordinary world into a gothic one through the power of the imagination, the heroines of Bodily Harm and The Handmaid's Tale are subjected to the much more horrifying reality of political oppression. Atwood's exploration of the complex issue of victimisation illustrates a basic ambivalence towards the gothic, for while it might be one of the best ways of embodying female fears, it is ultimately a destructive model. Essential to Atwood's discussion is the question of complicity. In varying degrees, Atwood's heroines are responsible for their predicaments. There are echoes of Atwood's ideas about Canadian identity in her heroines — an identity shaped by the dominating landscape. The early heroine of Surfacing, cold, detached, motherless and searching, is transformed through the novels that follow into a stronger, more resilient and determined figure.