Margaret Atwood : challenging the unity of the body and the text
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Margaret Atwood is an internationally read, translated, and critiqued writer whose novels have established her as one of the very best writers in English (McCombs, 1988:l). The subject of critical studies on her works deal mainly with notions of identity from psychoanalytical perspectives. This study has identified a gap in current critical studies on Atwood's works, namely to establish affinities between notions of identity and notions of textual identity. The theoretical perspective of this study is informed by theories of French feminist critics Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva, while keeping in mind some of the key ideas of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. The theories of Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva have affinities with Jacques Derrida’s concept of différance. These theories are applied to the characters of The Edible Woman, The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin, in order to deconstruct stereotypes of the virgin, the wife and the mother. These stereotypes are based upon binary oppositions, and if binary oppositions are deconstructed, then stereotypes are invalid. This study investigates the manner in which Atwood deconstructs stereotypes of the virgin, the wife and the mother, and also shows that attempts to conform to these stereotypes may lead to a fragmentation of subjectivity. In order to investigate the affinities between Atwood's questioning of the unity of the subject, and the postmodern questioning of textual unity, Roland Barthes's notion of the death of the author will be applied to The Edible Woman, The Handmaid's Tale and The Blind Assassin. It is shown that if the author of the text - the final signified - is eliminated, the text becomes fragmentary and open. The text becomes unstable, it displays an absence of hierarchical textual levels, and it becomes intertextual. Based on an analysis of the fragmentary nature of the character's identities according to theories by Hélène Cixous and Julia Kristeva, and an analysis of the fragmentary nature of Atwood's text in the light of Roland Barthes's notion of the death of the author, affinities between challenging orthodox notions of self-hood and the text will be established.
- Humanities