Present: Literature – Rendition of the 20th Century
One of Canada’s most renowned writers, Margaret Atwood is a prolific writer who has produced more than 40 volumes of poetry, fiction, children’s books, political essays and cultural criticism.
Atwood’s work ushered in, for the first time, the emergence of a defined Canadian identity. She explores both national and transnational issues such as colonization, feminism, structures of political power and oppression, and the violation and exploitation of nature. In her extensive body of original fiction, she skillfully unites realism, myth, and parable .
Her three influential dystopian novels – The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), Oryx and Crake (2003), and The Year of the Flood (2009) – are inventive fables about the subjugation of women under regimes of religious fundamentalism and the risks of global calamity brought about by environmental decay, genetic engineering, and the expanding potential for biological terrorism. Although these works are futuristic, they envision the dangers made possible by trends of the twentieth century and present a self-conscious, fiercely oppositional view to patriarchy.
Atwood often uses both realist narratives and a mix of myth, classics, fairy tales, and other genres in order to explore the meaning of human identity as a function of sexual differences and subordinations.
Her novel Surfacing (1972), explores the psychology of modern life, as well as the emergence of environmentalism, feminism, and anti-materialism through the story of a young Canadian woman searching for her missing father. In Cat’s Eye (1988), friendship and cruelty among young girls propel their lives from childhood at mid-century to later life in the 1980s, portraying the unfolding of history refracted through women’s lives during the rise of feminism.
Sexual conflict and power relations also shape The Robber Bride (1993), which uses supernatural and fairy tale elements to create a sense of the mythic within a realist narrative of friendship and betrayal among a group of women, while The Penelopiad (2005) employs multiple genres to explore gender and class injustice through events of Homer’s Odyssey as told from the perspective of Penelope.
In The Blind Assassin (2000), one of her most accomplished novels, she constructs a complex narrative working back and forth between two eras and points of view – telling a story through the sub-plot of the composition of a science fiction novel within the historical novel, along with an autobiography left to be read after its author’s death in an effort to paint a multi-generational portrait of Canada from the 1930s through the late 20th century from a woman’s perspective.
Over the course of her career, Atwood has received the Governor General Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Ida Nudel Humanitarian Award, the Giller Prize, the Booker Prize, and the Prince of Asturias Award for Letters.