A Low Art from the Penelopiad (2006) by Margaret Atwood

In the prose A Low Art, from The Penelopiad (2006), Margaret Atwood’s creative retelling of The Odyssey is a monologue of Penelope’s point of view in the first person. Atwood conveys Penelope’s escape from her oppression and her life with Odysseus. 


The conflict in this prose is Penelope’s frustration of having to be bound to a life with Odysseus while she was alive. It is a monologue of her realization where she regrets not understanding Odysseus’ true nature, “He got away with everything, which was another of his specialities: getting away”. She describes her husband as tricky and a liar, yet she had only realized this once she was nothing but in a state of “bonelessness, listlessness, breathlessness.” where she realizes her mistakes in refusing to see the darker side of her relationship with Odysseus. The monologue shows the amount of freedom Penelope now has, but only after her death. However, Atwood is not only highlighting the intense amount of oppression Penelope experienced but she is also discussing how it is often that women, in general, are subjected to living to submission or docility. She is describing how her defences were fragile and brittle as she played the role of an oppressed woman who, “kept my mouth shut” and “didn’t dig deep”. Penelope fell into an abyss which gave her a fabricated “happy ending” where she would shut out anything that told her otherwise, 


Due to this, her action of “keeping the right doors locked”, later led her to realize that because she refused to speak out against Odysseus, she began to have no spine of her own, or as she mentions, she had no mouth through which she could speak. Penelope’s circumstance of realising her mistakes so late allowed certain truths to be revealed, truths which she herself (when alive) did not want to accept. She also realizes that her action of resisting the temptation of seduction from other suitors created a stereotype for all women, that they must always be obedient and faithful. Her life’s example was a “stick used to beat other women with”, it became a story for yarn-spinners to spin into a perfect stereotype for women. 


The monologue which is in a passive-aggressive tone is essentially a moral lesson for Penelope as she realizes her faults during her lifetime. 


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One thought on “A Low Art from the Penelopiad (2006) by Margaret Atwood

  1. Ananya,

    Not bad at all —though you’ll need to polish your thinking up a bit for presentation to the IB (essay, paper 1,2). By this I mean: let’s not say “in the prose” but rather “in the novel” or “in this extract [from the novel, The Penelopeiad]” or “this section of . . .” because prose is kind of like poetry, essentially un-countable.

    You’re a very sensitive reader and it’s obvious you hear the narrator’s shifts in tone and purpose. I’d like to see you articulate this in a sharper way. As Auden said . . . poetry = clear expression (of mixed feelings), etc. and there is a LOT here . . . your Penelope is not exactly “passive-aggressive” is she?

    I think she’s quite aggressive!

    And yet, like you say, you’re so good about how this is not just about her —there is some humor and some regret and some voice of warning— right now, you’re checklisting things but I’m not sure you’ve pulled it all together. That’s next for you!

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