The Penelopiad: Framing

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The Penelopiad: Framing

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jun 2, 2014, 12:00pm

What is the significance of Penelope relating her story from beyond the grave (and thousands of years later, too), rather than shortly after or simultaneously to the original story?

This framing also brought in interesting details regarding the behavior of the dead. Did that add to the story?

jun 2, 2014, 7:37pm

Penelope has had time to reflect on the happenings and is responding to later interpretations of her actions. Responding immediately after the story might seem defensive, especially in light of Odysseus' return to adventure. Being dead theoretically signifies an emotional remove, which make her biting comments from beyond the grave even more powerful. The line between life and death is also fuzzy in Greek drama, as Atwood shows with Helen's continuing adventures.

Redigeret: jun 2, 2014, 9:09pm

In considering this question, I think it's important to remember that Homer's version of the story didn't reach its current form until centuries after it was written, and it didn't reach the form that most of us absorbed it in until some time in the twentieth century. Since the story is in large part Penelope's response to Homer's version of events, it would seem an odd choice to have her telling it in her own time.

It's also a useful device for the novelist. Placing Penelope in a sort of asynchronous afterlife allows Atwood to shift between immediacy and distance in describing events, which she makes good use of. In addition, it allows Penelope to address the reader directly, which I think is more effective for Atwood's purposes than to have her telling her story to some intermediary.

jun 6, 2014, 2:16pm

This book reminds of memoirs that I've read, in which the author tells us about one phase of their life while they're in another phase. And it would not be strange for the ancient Greeks to see two main phases, life and after-life. From the Greek myths that I remember reading as a kid, there can be just as much drama in the afterlife as before.

Redigeret: jun 8, 2014, 10:22am

Among other possibilities, I see the framing as an authorial convenience allowing Atwood to portray for us a Penelope who exhibits fairly modern perspectives without being anachronistic. It allows for a modern criticism of classical attitudes towards sex and the gods. This Penelope may seem to take a fairly laissez-faire attitude towards the slavery of the time—Atwood speaks for the slaves through the chorus—but with regards to sex and the gods her explicit perspective is one which we readily find familiar.
So much for the gods not wanting me to suffer. They all tease. I might as well have been a stray dog, pelted with stones or with its tail set alight for their amusement. Not the fat and bones of animals, but our suffering, is what they love to savour.

jun 10, 2014, 9:31am

Yes, I agree with Tuirgin in #5.

After all, if it were set at the same time, the word "rape" could never appear in the story -- and the treatment of women is a significant part of the point Atwood is making.

I found it interesting that Atwood had Penelope adopt such a modern, feminist view of women's sexual agency but had no such change of heart around slavery. Quite the juxtaposition for readers.

jun 10, 2014, 10:03am

>6 sparemethecensor: I found it interesting that Atwood had Penelope adopt such a modern, feminist view of women's sexual agency but had no such change of heart around slavery. Quite the juxtaposition for readers.

I think her message was the stronger for it. Through her aristocratic Penelope, she was able to show how the classical patriarchal society oppressed even women at the top of the social order. And with the chorus she was able to criticize the social order, itself. She's effectively launching a satirical attack on both sexism and classism by raising up one hero only to dash her hero's whole order.

She uses the framing quite effectively. I can't help wondering, however, whether I've learned much for it. I tend to think there is more to learn by working from within—as far as it is possible—the classical worldview without the easy judgment from the future, our present. I guess it's up to whether you're more interested in how others viewed the world, or attempting to shape how we see the world today. I'm not sure that the two must be independent goals, but it's probably far easier to pick one.

jun 10, 2014, 11:14am

>7 Tuirgin:

I like your interpretation. Mine was more cynical, that Atwood might have come from a decade of feminism that predated intersectionality -- and it didn't cross her mind that while making Penelope authentic to the original time period by keeping to her classist ways, she was not coming to the same social revelation she had about women's rights. But I like the way you are seeing the attack on both sexism and classism. I shouldn't forget that while Penelope tells the tale, the chorus chimes in regularly.

jun 19, 2014, 12:13pm

So many good points about ancient vs. modern worldviews. I'm loving the discussion!

I really liked the setting in Hades. It lets Penelope set aside all the falsehoods of the human realm: piety for the gods, for the institution of marriage, for her husband. She’s more honest and flippant.

It reminds me a lot of Sartre’s No Exit: hell is other people, and we are stuck with the pettiness of people for eternity. I felt bad for Penelope’s inability to get closure, to apologize to the hanged maidens, to come to some finality in her on-off relationship with her husband, to resolve anything with her rival Helen.