Rape Fantasies by Margaret Atwood, 1975
The magic trick:
Shifting the story’s tone throughout until finally settling on an earnest theme in the final paragraph
Can you be a feminist if you are a misanthrope first and foremost?
Can I, as a man, truly understand what is happening in this story?
Not sure I know the answer to either question, but I can add a few notes. It’s a tonally confusing story from the jump. Should we laugh? Should we be appalled? Is this story critiquing society? Is it critiquing chauvinistic, dumbed-down pop culture trumped up through mainstream women’s magazines? Yeah, sure. But is it also critiquing the women who read such magazines and fall into said chauvinistic traps? Yes, for sure.
No one is safe from Atwood’s wicked pen.
So you read on, taking it all in, never quite sure where to find your footing, sympathy wise. The tone shifts and moves with every sentence.
Then, finally, at the end, our narrator closes with something that needs no tonal explanation. It’s earnest as could be. With that then the entire story’s vibe takes shape and makes sense, and it’s sad and lonely and scary and infuriating.
And that’s quite a trick on Atwood’s part.
“Listen,” I said, “those aren’t rape fantasies. I mean, you aren’t getting raped, it’s just some guy you haven’t met formally who happens to be more attractive than Derek Cummins” – he’s the Assistant Manager, he wears elevator shoes or at any rate they have these thick soles and he has this funny way of talking, we call him Derek Duck – “and you have a good time. Rape is when they’ve got a knife or something and you don’t want to.”
“So what about you, Estelle,” Chrissy said, she was miffed because I laughed at her fantasy, she thought I was putting her down. Sondra was miffed too, by this time she’d finished her celery and she wanted to tell about hers, but she hadn’t got in fast enough.
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