‘There Was Once’ by Margaret Atwood

There Was Once by Margaret Atwood, 1993

The magic trick:

Using comedy and intelligence to make a point

See, Donald Trump, Margaret Atwood’s actually on your side! In “There Was Once,” she has some linguistic fun, railing against the ills of political correctness.

What, if you consider every possible complaint, are we allowed to say at all?

It’s funny. It’s actually something to think about.

But, unlike Trump, who deals with every topic with anger and ignorance, Atwood approaches this subject with a light touch. There is intelligence, irony, wit, humor. Imagine!

When you use intelligence, your argument doesn’t feel mean. It feels thoughtful and, therefore, can be thought-provoking. And that’s quite a trick on Atwood’s part. 

The selection:

“There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the forest.”

“Forest? Forest is passé, I mean, I’ve had it with all this wilderness stuff. It’s not a right image of our society, today. Let’s have some urban for a change.”

“There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the suburbs.”

“That’s better. But I have to seriously query this word poor.”

“But she was poor!”

“Poor is relative. She lived in a house, didn’t she?”


“Then socio-economically speaking, she was not poor.”

“But none of the money was hers! The whole point of the story is that the wicked stepmother makes her wear old clothes and sleep in the fireplace-”

“Aha! They had a fireplace! With poor, let me tell you, there’s no fireplace. Come down to the park, come to the subway stations after dark, come down to where they sleep in cardboard boxes, and I’ll show you poor!“

“There was once a middle-class girl, as beautiful as she was good-”


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