Margaret Atwoods Rape Fantasies Essay, Research Paper
The plot of Rape Fantasies by Margaret Atwood is all within the mind of Estelle, who talks to the reader as she might to a new friend. Estelle?s personality becomes exposed to us through the narration of her fantasies and lunchtime work experiences.
We are told of Estelle?s workplace where she is with her friends discussing their rape fantasies. Examining Estelle?s world through her perspective of the conversation, we find she is a game player both outwardly in playing bridge and in her relationship with herself. ?I like to guess a person?s age and then look it up to see if I?m right. I let myself have an extra pack of cigarettes if I am.? (31). This example of Estelle?s competitiveness is expressed in three other ways in the story. First, in her critical interpretation of Greta?s and Chrissey?s fantasies. Estelle says to her friend/reader that she is aware that Greta?s fantasy rapist came from a show that they both had seen and also compares him to Tarzan in a satirical, humorous way. Her comment to Chrissey?s
bubble bath fantasy, ?Anyway you might get bubbles up your nose… from all the heavy breathing,? (32) appears to cause the other four women to become offended. Second, her thoughts and words will sometimes cut short the words of her co-workers as in this example: ?Sondra was miffed too, by this time she finished her celery and she wanted to tell about hers, but she hadn?t got in fast enough. ?All right, let me tell you one,? I said.? (32). Third, this sort of personality domination is also seen in Estelle?s rape fantasies themselves. In almost every fantasy that Estelle reveals to us, she overcomes the rapist with her cool head and creative thinking; otherwise, she mentions physical attacks or force. Her first fantasy describes how she tricks the rapist into helping her squirt lemon juice in his eye. Then she tells us of the poor man who could not unzip his pants and was saved by Estelle from suicide by her kindness and sentimental understanding. In her third fantasy, Estelle helps a man with a bad cold who breaks into her apartment to rape her. She gives him Kleenex, Neo-Citran and scotch and they watch the Late Show together. The next fantasy involves a man in her mother?s basement with an axe, but she tells him,
I hear the same angel voices and they?ve been telling me for some time that I?m going to give birth to the reincarnation of St. Anne who in turn has the Virgin Mary and right after that comes Jesus Christ and the end of the world, and he wouldn?t want to interfere with that, would he? (35).
This sends him back up the coal shoot. Then she briefly fantasizes about a number of potential rape situations where she hurts or physically overpowers her assailant, but quickly returns to less threatening possibilities. Her last fantasy is, in Estelle?s words,
?the most touching? and kind of dignified? (pg. 35) rape fantasy where she is dying of leukemia and is grabbed by a man in the same condition. She woos him and they move into an apartment where they die together.
Estelle likes power; she is not helpless in her fantasies. Her fantasies of being a Kung-Fu expert demonstrate her wish for control over her body and her safety. Estelle can outwit, confuse, and fool her fantasy rapists; in fact she hopes she is not too vicious to them. By calmly listening to her rapists or starting a conversation with them, she attempts to assert herself. She can relate to and give advice to her rapists. They can even watch the late show together. Truly, Estelle?s rapists are as unrealistically obliging and polite as her coworkers? rapists were romantically accommodating. These fantasy men are definite failures at raping Estelle, but they are more successful at having a relationship with a woman than the ?successful? rapists. Ironically, the men even leave her feeling sorry for their unsuccessful attempts at rape. For example, Estelle mentions one rapist who gets his zipper stuck as he starts to undo himself and begins to cry, at ?one of the most significant moments in a girl?s life, it [rape]?s almost like getting married or having a baby or something.? So Estelle dismantles the traditional view of rape and rapists. The rapists in her six fantasies get cancer and colds. Some even have suicidal wishes. They are vulnerable. Estelle might not want to admit it, but she humanizes her rapists, so that he does not have to love in terror. It is her way of imagining control and of having power over them. (Walter, 3)
As can be seen in these examples, the serious topic of Atwood?s Rape Fantasies is handled with a good amount of humor, and never do we hear mention of the physical
horror and shock of actual rape. This story does not really examine rape, but the mind and outlook of Estelle. It takes a sensationalist media topic and reorganizes it with the fantasies of the protagonist. We also find this kind of balancing in the main character?s balance of good and bad personality traits.
Estelle?s dominant posture is offset by her belief in being nice and thinking that other people are nice too. Wondering if? squirting lemon juice in a rapist?s eyes could be considered vicious and believing (or hoping) rapists can be deterred by kindness, understanding and sensitivity.
Claiming to be honest shows us another aspect of Estelle?s personality exposed to us in the context of her conversation with the other women. Estelle says she is honest when Chrissey can not believe Estelle?s rape fantasy, thinking that she is making a joke out of their serious intimations: ?I?m being totally honest,? I say. I always am and they know it. There?s no point in being anything else, is the way I look at it, and sooner or later the truth will out so you might as well not waste the time, right? (33)
We can see that the similarities between this fantasy and her others have something in common. Unlike Chrissey?s or Greta?s fantasies, none of them actually involve any kind of actual sexual act. By the end of the story, we believe that the polite rapist who gets the lemon juice in his eye is part of an actual fantasy of Estelle?s. In this little episode we can see Estelle?s honesty and sweetness, since none of the disguised brutality found in the fantasies of the other two women is evident in the story that Estelle reveals.
Along with maintaining an ironic balance within Rape Fantasies, Estelle?s personality revelations introduce other ideas into the story. Her casual friendly banter
can take a complex, weighty topic such as rape and simplify it into one naive workingwoman?s thoughts. She mentions growing up as a Catholic girl and how that helped to save her from the fantasized basement axe murderer.
There are two religious references made by Estelle, and both mention the Virgin Mary. This possibly expresses two things about Estelle?s personality and an overall idea found in the story. First, and most obvious, is just the fact that she has had a religious upbringing. Second is the paradoxical situation that one finds in the ?virgin birth? and in the ?satisfying rape.? These references introduce into the story the surreal nature of rape fantasies as presented by the magazines and TV that Estelle tells of in the beginning of the story. The idea that the perfect woman, or the Virgin Mary, gave birth to a child while remaining a virgin presents woman with the same kind of paradoxical model as having rape fantasies, the similarity being that a woman can no more find a happy, exciting, pleasant rape than she can get pregnant and still be a virgin. As Estelle says,
?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,? and you have a good time. Rape is when they?ve got a knife or something and you don?t want to? (32).
Atwood manipulates these images within Estelle?s fantasies creating an ironic picture with subtle, biting humor. A mirror-image paradox in which the basic idea in the story and in the character of Estelle balance each other as opposite ideas and traits stand side by side. The thin almost non-existent plot is held up by the developed character of Estelle who presents us with a series of mini-plots held together by Estelle?s particular
perspective. Each little sub-plot involves Estelle?s meeting an adversary, whether that be a would-be rapist, one of the other women in the lunchroom, or herself. Each little dramatic episode brings us nearer to knowing Estelle. Margaret Atwood allows us to know a large part of Estelle?s personality in a short time by exposing her to many antagonists. In each case she is triumphant, speaking her mind as the predictable world of her own fantasies allows her to know of each sweet romantic ending. Estelle emerges saintly after each conflict until the end of the story when she defeats herself realizing that in actuality she is fantasizing about something that she has no understanding of. Her loquacious personality is packaged in a believable rounded character. After reading this story, (or listening to Estelle talk to us) we have mixed feelings, likes and dislikes of Estelle as we might if we had a conversation with her in a coffee shop. Margaret successfully creates a living human being for the reader, Estelle?s new friend. (Perrine, 42)
The irony in Estelle?s personality and the story itself becomes clear as Estelle tells of an adage of her mother?s.
My mother always said you shouldn?t dwell on unpleasant things and I generally agree with that, I mean, dwelling on them doesn?t make them go away. Though not dwelling on them doesn?t make them go away either, when you come to think of it (35).
As Estelle dwells on the idea that one shouldn?t dwell on things, the humor and satire in the story become even more evident. The last few sentences of the story express much of the essence of the irony of the main character and the story in general:
Like, how could a fellow do that to a person he?s just had a long conversation with, once you let them know you?re human, you have a life too, I don?t see how they could go ahead with it, right? I mean, I know it happens but I just don?t understand it, that?s the part I really don?t understand (36-37).
These two sentences capture the irony of a woman giving her interpretation of the rapist when she readily admits that she does not understand the feelings of someone who would actually do it. It is the irony of a situation that could never be pleasant, yet the potential victims of the violent act of rape happily daydream and converse about participation.
But this allows us to accept Estelle as a genuine person with both clear and faulty thinking, and both good and bad personality traits. Atwood lets us know all of this about Estelle without directly saying that she is competitive, gossipy, nice, talkative, silly, domineering, funny, etc. She creates a well- rounded character that expresses her within the framework of her own fantasy world. Lisa Tyler says,? Estelle is a likable character with whom they can readily sympathize. She is frightened at the prospect of dating potentially dangerous strangers, but she id frightened, too, by the prospect of a solitary life. She chooses, caught in this dilemma, to take risks rather than protect herself through isolation. Barbara Hill Rigney contends that commitment to [the] human condition, no matter how malignant, and for an engagement with life, with reality, no matter how brutal or absurd.? In this respect, Estelle is admirable. She possesses a sense of humor, and she struggles to cope as cheerfully ad possible with her fear of rape. She does not withdrawal
from human connection; she struggles to establish such connections in spite of vulnerability and fear. (Tyler, 4)
Perrine, Laurence: Literature Structure, Sound, and Sense, fourth edition; 1984:
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers; New York, NY.
Atwood, Margaret. ?Rape Fantasies.? Texts for English Composition. N.p.: McGraw-
Hill Primus, 2000. 30-37.
Tyler, Lisa. ?Teaching Margaret Atwood?s ?Rape Fantasies.? I Just Don?t Understand It. Dec. 2000: 2-3 Iris Proquest Direct. Rutgers University Library Camden. 1 Dec. 2000* http//www.Rut