Margaret Atwood is a Canadian writer who was born in 1939 the time when World War II began. Through her works including novels essays and poetry runs Victor/victim and quest for self-themes, a set of symbols and a developing underlay of theory though they are varied in the genre.
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The poet begins with the words “My daughter place on the floor”. The use of the word daughter instead of a child signifies that the poem is about motherhood.
The poet describes her daughter playing with the plastic letters that are red blue and yellow. These three are the primary colours that are the building blocks of other colours and metaphorically depict that her daughter is learning the basics of her life.
In the next line, the poet uses three words, “how to spell”, “spelling” and “how to make spells”. In my views, these words refer to the three stages of a woman life. A young girl first learns “how to spell” the word.
Next, she learns the spelling of those words. In other words, she learns to read and write the words. After getting educated she “makes spells”. These words refer to witchcraft. In the old days, the woman was considered as witches as they cast spell on men.
In this stanza, the poet talks about the conditions of being a woman. According to her, the women have to deny their daughters, lock themselves in the rooms in order to write. These lines depict the problems that educated women have to suffer.
First society doesn’t allow them to write and they have to close themselves in rooms. In other words, they have to hide their identity.
Second, motherhood is also a problem for them. They can either nourish their children or write. Thus a woman has to struggle between her profession and motherhood.
In this stanza, the poet probably talks about the Holocaust in which the women were captured, tortured, raped and ultimately made to abort children or their legs were tied in order to prevent birth which ultimately led to their death.
Metaphorically this stanza means that voice of educated women is killed by society. She cannot create ideas. Poet quotes the example of Mary Webster who was accused of witchcraft because she tried to raise her voice.
Her mouth was covered by leather in order to strangle her words. Though she was saved, men of the age tortured her whole life.
The poet tells the history not conventionally but morally. She gives light to the shared experience of oppression that survived throughout the ages. According to the poet, the words of all females are power together.
In other words, the literacy among the woman is their power and it is this power which is suppressed by the men throughout the ages.
In this stanza, the poet portrays the harsh reality of the condition of women in society. According to the writer, bodies of witches (women) were burnt along with their powerful words. Their imaginations flowed like blood when their bodies erupted like rocks (in a volcano).
When these bones became hollow or when the ideas of the women were killed, the bones (that represent the suffering of women) themselves become mouths and spoke out words. The poet considers these bones as a metaphor of the suppressed talent of women.
In this stanza, the poet asks, “How do you learn to spell?” “Spell” is a pun here. In a literary perspective, it means putting letters to form names and in metaphorical perspective, it means to enchant or convey impressions.
The poet thus asks how do they spell and identify the things like blood sky and Sun. In the end, she says that no one can name himself though male or female.
The very first name is given by someone else. The poem thus begins with a note on feminism but ends with concerns of all the genders.