Atwood's animals : triangular identification in The edible woman, Surfacing and The blind assassin
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
My principal focus in this thesis is on the role of nonhuman animals in three novels by Margaret Atwood: The Edible Woman, Surfacing and The Blind Assassin. This is a work of literary criticism, but its themes extend to encompass various disciplinary perspectives. My approach is, primarily, that of 'animal studies.' Despite a proliferation of animals in Atwood's work, her novels have rarely been so extensively addressed from this angle. This means that my thesis makes an original contribution to the criticism of her work, and that it promotes discussion of Atwood in animal studies. The scope of my work also covers feminist and postcolonial theories regarding Canadian literature, as I draw attention to a three-way parallel between animals, women and Canada in these novels, which I refer to as 'triangular identification' on the part of the protagonists.
I have divided my discussion into two sections. The first addresses the ways in which, triangular identification and animals in particular function as a tool in the process of 'devictirnisation' which Atwood outlines in Survival. I argue that motifs of hunting and animal appropriation help the protagonists to recognise and react to their status as the victims of social structures. My second section goes beyond the ideas put forward by Atwood. I look at the protagonists' developing 'non-victirnhood' in terms of various theories of subjectivity, and explore some of the more problematic implications of the way they (and Atwood) use and then dispense with triangular identification. Finally, I examine Atwood's use of animals in the context of recent theories of animal representation in literature, concluding that in these terms, her work does, perhaps inevitably, exploit animals, but that the extremes of animal identification in these novels nevertheless suggest positive alternatives to this.