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This book was certainly an entertaining read. Unlike the Penelope presented in The Odyssey, Penelope in The Penelopiad has a witty personality not quite emphasized in the former work. Unexpectedly, despite not having a form or a voice, as Penelope states herself, her narration is filled with humorous twists and turns, one that gives insight on the incidents that unfold in The Odyssey from her perspective, which I find highly enjoyable – after all, her modern take on the classical and ancient tale is truly refreshing, and her stream of consciousness, of course, which I shall come back to very soon.

Another facet of this unconventional presentation of Penelope’s life that I find interesting is the way the maid’s choruses are interspersed among her narrative. I believe – of course this is only blind assumption – that perhaps Atwood is attempting to create a distinction between Penelope and the maids? If she is, I must say she successfully stirred up my sympathies for the maids. In one of the choruses, the main exhibits cynicism towards their destinies as maids and towards their masters as well. From their perspectives, they are nothing but dirt – dirty, unclean, disposable. I sensed bitterness here which made me wonder if Penelope ever noticed that. Ironically, Penelope is under the impression that her supposed benevolence and adoration of those maids, which, by the way, are ultimately made victims of Penelope’s own foolishness, ensured their loyalty. Apparently not. Her plan caused them early, undeserving deaths. It is then perhaps their right to resent Penelope? I think so.

So, stream of consciousness. I think I shall ramble something about this before I lose my consciousness altogether. (It is approaching midnight, after all.) I keep on getting the feeling that my eyes are going to shut down altogether in the near future, in, say, two minutes.

Right. I have digressed, or perhaps streamed my consciousness? (Ha ha.) Well, I find that Penelope has a knack for driving me off the course. One second she narrates a story, another second she digresses and goes into other less relevant topics. In my drowsy condition, I have been quite susceptible to her artfulness – kind of. And, that part where Antinous appears, I am particularly impressed with her response for his vile directness: “Thank you for your frankness. It must be a relief to you to express your feelings for once. You can put the arrow back now. To tell you the truth, I feel a surge of joy every time I see it sticking through your lying, gluttonous neck.”

Penelope would make a great feminist.

One Comment

  1. I definitely agree that one of the effects of interspersing the maids’ chapters with Penelope’s is to encourage readers to question Penelope’s story and to garner sympathy for the maids. One point that drives this home for me is in the maids’ first “chorus line,” where at the end they refer to themselves as “the one you failed/the ones you killed.” Earlier in the poem they seem to be referring to Odysseus (“we did much less/than what you did/you judged us bad”, but by the end it could just as easily refer to Penelope–she is the one who “failed” them, arguably.

    I hadn’t really noticed how there is a stream of consciousness here that leads her to go on and off track…thanks for bringing that up because now I’ll go look for it!

    On another note, can you activate a plugin that allows commenters to receive an email if there is a reply to their comment? Go to “plugins” on the left on your dashboard, and then the plugin called “subscribe to comments” (or something like that). Click “activate” on the right. Then, if someone wants to be notified if there is a reply to their comment, they can check a box after their comment to get an email!

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