In highschool, I once had an English teacher who was known throughout the school for her love of cats and Margaret Atwood. I’m serious, her bookshelf was guarded by kitten plush dolls and her window had written in stickers, “MARGARET ATWOOD FANCLUB”. Now, I’m probably the farthest thing from a crazy cat lady (I’m allergic), but I think after reading the Penelopiad I can understand where her fondness of Atwood derives from.
Upon my initial reading of the novel, I found myself perplexed by the characterization of Penelope. In Homer’s epic The Odyssey, she is depicted as poised and self-sufficient, modest and admirable. In Atwood’s spinoff, however, I discovered a completely different Penelope, one fraught with insecurities, secrets, and even desires (gasp, desires that were NOT pertaining to Odysseus). I didn’t know how to feel about this foreign figure appealing for my acceptance, and then I realized why. Atwood’s Penelope may not be the stoic heroine I had so admired in the romantic epic – in fact, she may not be worthy of praise at all – but she has something she was denied by Homer: Atwood’s Penelope has a voice.
In The Penelopiad, we as readers are afforded the opportunity to listen to the appeal of a woman, who, in her death, attempts to relay all the things she could not say while she was alive, with a contemporary voice. I think in Tom’s post, he asked whether it is necessary or useful to go back and scrutinize such an ancient text with such modern criticism. I’m thinking about that… and I think it is. Because when we do so, we are not telling Penelope to go back and change the way she conducted her life (she’s dead, anyways), we are just giving her a chance to speak. After all, isn’t that how progress is made? By revising the things we did wrong in the past?