As soon as Jill mentioned that Penelope’s story (as well as that of Odysseus, the maids, etc.) could not be trusted, I immediately thought of Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby. Not only is it one of my favorite books, it goes to show that not all narrators can be deemed honest. Furthermore, is this a thorough analysis of Penelope and Nick Caraway, or did I just want to bring up The Great Gatsby? We may never know. I digress. Anyway.
Though Penelope may not have been exactly lying, she may not have been telling the whole truth either, blowing some aspects out of proportion and understating others. It is easy to see, after reading Penelope and the maids’ voices juxtaposed alongside one another, that the story became far too complex for anybody to fully wrap their heads around. There are a plethora of sides to any and every story, and it proves to be just so in The Penelopiad. It seems that there are a myriad of possibilities to each event posed by Homer and Atwood and it is interesting to see the different approaches that each author lays out for his or her characters. It is quite plausible that both The Odyssey and The Penelopiad were crafted to get us to delve into the underlying messages posed by each text, and that we are supposed to read between the lines of exactly what is being said; the problem is, every character has an opinion – a certain sharpness in tongue that may be subtle and unconscious (or not) – that we must take into account.
How are we supposed to know whose story is the truth? What does Atwood’s Penelope gain by recounting her story after her death? Is she trying to explain herself, and if so, why? Why exactly does she feel the need to explain herself if she hasn’t done anything wrong? Furthermore, why do the maids hold such vengeance against her? Perhaps there is more of a reason that expected, but it is all a matter of questioning the narrator and asking ourselves, “Is this really what I believe, or should I take this with a grain of salt?”
Each narrator presents a bias which we must train our brains to detect; it could be an underlying cynical tone, sarcasm, bitterness, whimsicality, or even a modest hubbub that gives the one telling the story some flare, as well as a bit of vulnerability into his/her mind. We have to wonder why ancient Grecian Penelope is trying to relate to 21st century young adults (because everybody knows that a ((great)^100) grandmother that tries to act “hip and modern” is nothing but trouble for all).
Like Nick in The Great Gatsby, Penelope’s tale, as well as the tales of the others, are not to be trusted in fear that details they provide are merely added or removed to “spice up the story”.
Well played, Atwood. You’re a legend.