Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Atwood's Female Writing: A Reading of "This Is a Photograph of Me"

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Atwood's Female Writing: A Reading of "This Is a Photograph of Me"

Article excerpt


During the twentieth century, women poets who were immensely influenced by the most revolutionary aspects of modernism, gave rise to what French feminists called 'écriture feminine' as a desired way of writing differently. In feminist writings emphasis seems to be more on how women are oppressed in the society as well as their anxieties about their bodies. Margaret Atwood (b. 1939) the Canadian nationalist poetess is a prominent figure concerned with the need for a new language to explore relations between subjects and society, the power relations that define one's identity as well as the inadequacy of phallocentric discourse. What is also noteworthy in Atwood's writings is the rewriting of images and myths born by the patriarchal society and Western civilization. This study is an attempt to shed light on the ways Atwood pursues French feminists with emphasis on female body and language to show the poetess's exploration of female identity in her less-referred-to poem "This is a Photograph of Me." The writers have tried to show Atwood's tackling identity and restriction through the act of rewriting such established images as light and water.

Key words: Margaret Atwood; This is a Photograph of Me; Feminism; Identity; écriture feminine


French feminism revolutionized many of the long-held beliefs. It highlighted the role of the female body in the construction of a new language that became the focal point in many feminist writings. This generated a new ambience of looking for the self, identity and female body-dominant themes in Atwood-that Warhol and Herndl refer to in Feminisms (1997): Emphasis in feminism seems to be more on how women are oppressed and "women's anxiety about disease and about their bodies in historical contexts" (p.5). As Cristanne Miller argues in "Gender, Sexuality and the Modernist Poem," during the nineteenth century "ideologies of gender were roughly based on identifying motherhood and domestic life whereas the twentieth century was the harbinger of sparking women's interest more on the issue of identity and self, hence feminism was the first major movement, either artistically or literally, that played a tremendous role that gave rise to shaping their own ideas and writing" (2007, p.70). Also, in the words of Adrienne Rich, "the feminist poet sought to validate and politicize woman's experience by defining the self, rejecting cultural differences, and revealing the substance of her life" (qtd. in Juhasz, 1979, p.23). This implies the significance of the very act of writing as a "subversive tool for women in trying to create a space for a feminine, 'heterogeneous difference' outside the static closure of the binary oppositions that underlie patriarchal ideology" (Ozdemir, 2003, p.58). Atwood's exploration of identity is enriched with her use of voice and images that will be referred to.

Margaret Atwood, a canonical major contemporary writer of fiction and poetry as well as literary and cultural criticism, is widely regarded as one of the most prolific and highly versatile authors of Canadian and world literature. Caroline Rosenthal believes that Atwood's work "raises and intersects many different issues: Canadian, feminist, anthropological, and cultural studies concerns as well as postcolonial criticism" (2000, p.53). Edible Woman (1969), Atwood's first groundbreaking novel, copes with the male-dominated and consumer society where men view women as commodities. Surfacing (1972) or Atwood's wilderness novel-Atwood was concerned about serenity of nature versus human tragedy-attempts to critique those who claim to be 'enlightened' and desecrate nature on the pretext of making progress because it yields the greatest profit to them. Erinc Ozdemir believes that Atwood's novel "valorizes femininity against masculinity, while at the same time it paradoxically dramatizes a desire to destroy all dichotomies and dualistic thinking" (2003, p. …

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