World Literature in English, Spring, '98

Students' Final Take-Home Exams
Spring, 1998

The idea of duality in the poems by Margaret Atwood.
Tina Pan
The mirrors in Atwood¡¦s poems are reflecting tools. They can be the tools of the poetic rhetoric and at the same time, a subversive and hidden tool to extend the infinite possibility of the poems.

In ¡§Two-headed Poems,¡¨ the contradiction and hostility of a Siamese twin are the main theme. Along side the images presented by the mirrors, the language/literature is examined and criticized. The two-headedness is the awkwardness of the situation of Canada or Canadian literature. Desiring and threatened by separation, the two languages/groups of people fight for subjectivity and lose the focus of the multicultural background of the nature of the nation. They also ignore the imposing power of the neighbors. The poem states clearly: ¡§To purge is to clean/ also to kill.¡¨ The identity of a nation is already vague by being a member of the common wealth. The inner conflict complicates the situation. The identity that the anglophones and the francophones strive for is not so solid. The duality of words is shown through the lines, ¡§each word is empire/each words is vampire and mother.¡¨ What is the center? Is that important to a nation like Canada? While the two-headed symbiotic entity wants to break the balance, the risk is to fall into another fragmentary state. There may be just as many suns as we want and actually ¡§there are as many suns as there are words for sun.¡¨ Therefore, it is a mutual relationship and emblematic in the duality presented in the poem of M. Atwood and the mirror images. This freedom or space allowed in literature can only be turned into advantages instead of disadvantages. This duality can be extended and accepted as long as the other possibility and positive side become the consensus of the two heads/groups. The relationship between the two major cultural groups is so much blended now that this coexistence is somehow necessary to one another¡¦s survival. ¡§You can¡¦t live here without breathing/someone else¡¦s air/air that has been used to shape these hidden words that are not yours¡¨ would be interpreted by me as the shared history of English and French colonization of the ¡§first nation.¡¨

Words constitute the ability to debate, to heat up discussion, to speak for one¡¦s subjectivity. In facing the mirrors, words are simply ¡§nooses¡¨ and ¡§diseases of the mouth.¡¨ The ¡§other dream¡¨ is ¡§to be mute.¡¨ The duality can be reflected in the mirrors, but can be disputed in words.

In ¡§This Is a Photograph of Me,¡¨ the relfexibility is established after death. To be drowned is paralleled to the diminishing or perishing of the self. However, the identity is not utterly cancelled. It still pervades the photograph though it is only a piece of paper. The description of the location of the scenery allows the presence of the self to be re-established in a more dispersed yet more prevailing manner. The individuality takes the form of a rather philosophical meditation. The mirroring and the meditating are actually two actions of reciprocity. This can apply to the process of writing and reading. The access to the space of authorship gives a right to the readers to create another authorship. The giving in of the ¡§me¡¨ signifies another obscure existence of the self.

The mirrors are absolutely useful in the affirmation of oneself though they can pose problems and doubts. The idea of frame is added to the idea of mirror in the poem ¡§Tricks with Mirrors.¡¨ Here, M. Atwood raises the doubts to the limitations of mirrors. Despite its profundity, the two-dimensional actuality of the mirror balances or limits the view as well. In contrast to the verbal duality criticized in the ¡§Two-headed poems,¡¨ the duality of the ¡§crafty¡¨ mirrors is highlighted here. This is also a case on the other extreme. It talks about the visions and illusions mirrors offer. On the other end of the scale, the ¡§glassy¡¨ and ¡§icy¡¨ mirrors can set up limits and ¡§restraints.¡¨ For those aspiring for some ideal or the ¡§self,¡¨ it is worth considering whether the reflection of the mirror is actually existent and whether it is valid. Maybe it requires the process of validation, and this poem is the experiment on validating the verity and probably even breaking the illusion presented. Through rebellion and self-denial, it is possible to extend the space. As a strategy, it can be discussed out of the theme of duality. The balance of duality is no longer the focus. To disrupt this duality or balance is the beginning of self-recognition with profundity.