Academic journal article Making Connections

Freeing the Feminine Identity: The Egg as Transformative Image in the Magical Realism of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood

Academic journal article Making Connections

Freeing the Feminine Identity: The Egg as Transformative Image in the Magical Realism of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood

Article excerpt

When Angela Carter died in 1992, Margaret Atwood aptly described her as a "fairy godmother"; 1 indeed, both Atwood and Carter can be described as spellbinding in their contributions to the twentieth-century feminist literary tradition. In one commemorative article, Carter is quoted as having said, "A good writer can make you believe time stands still" (Hopper). Just how they make us believe or not believe is perhaps the true power these writers wield over the reader and is perhaps their true contribution to the feminist plight to escape gender as a cultural grip on women's selfidentity.

Both Carter and Atwood choose magical realism to move beyond the constraints of the mimetic to create imagery that allows the female identity to escape society's hold on personal narrative. According to Eugene L. Arva, "Typically, readers of magical realist fiction must look beyond the realistic detail and accept the dual ontological structure of the text, in which the natural and the supernatural, the explainable and the miraculous, coexist side by side in a kaleidoscopic reality, whose apparently random angles are deliberately left to the audience's discretion." Specifically, Atwood and Carter employ the image of the egg as both a visual object in that it exists in reality, which holds symbolic meaning related to a woman's biology, and a magically transformative literary device that can move the reader beyond the confines of the gender-biased world. Each author uses the egg as a central image, narratively turning it, as if a prism, allowing the reader to view for herself the multiple facets of meaning that could exist inside and outside of it.

Language, as a creation of culture, is infused with myth and therefore we conform ourselves to the perception of the world within this social construct. We are born into a symbolic world and both our unconscious and conscious selves are controlled by the patriarchal power struggle within. The subjective is not found in objective reality. Writers like Atwood and Carter must either rise above or below it, or perhaps manipulate it in order to recreate reality and thus find truth through the language of imagery.

Julia Kristeva explains that semiotic practices disrupt the established relationship between sign and signifier that exists in what she calls ordinary language. She explains that semiotics restructures language by realigning the textual arrangement that is part of the "general text" created by culture (37). Kristeva goes on to explain the intertextual nature of semiotic practice ("the ideologeme") in poetic language:

The ideologeme is the intersection of a given textual arrangement (a semiotic practice) with the utterances (sequences) that it either assimilates into its own space or to which it refers in the space of exterior texts (semiotic practices). The ideologeme is that intertextual function read as 'materialized' at the different structural levels of each text, and which stretches along the entire length of its trajectory, giving it its historical and social coordinates. (36)

In order for Atwood and Carter to establish this ideologeme, they seek to merge conscious reality, accepted as fact, with magical or "new" reality, creating a narrative intersection, which constantly shifts the image of the egg from the symbolic realm to the semiotic realm. It is the pliability of the magical realist image, in this case the egg, that allows Atwood and Carter to subvert and transgress cultural ideologies, creating a revolutionary state of "otherness." Maggie Ann Bowers elaborates:

[M]agical realism relies upon the presentation of real, imagined or magical elements as if they were real. The key to understanding how magical realism works is to understand the way in which the narrative is constructed in order to provide a realistic context for the magical events of the fiction. Magical realism therefore relies upon realism but only so that it can stretch what is acceptable as real to its limits. …

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