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Margaret Atwood’s 2005 novel The Penelopiad succeeds
in departing from Homer’s epic The Odyssey
to a large extent, recognised by Forbes
as ‘an introspective retelling of a classic tale.’1 The
Homeric epic in question is multifaceted, concerned with themes ranging from discoveries
of the mythical and the supernatural, to scenes of mourning and mimesis,
overarched by the didactic journey undertaken by Odysseus in returning to his
native home of Ithaca. The Odyssey has
been defined as ‘heterogeneous’2 in
its tales of heroic valour, the epic itself patricentric in orientation. In
evaluating the ways in which Atwood departs from these notions, the focus of this
essay will consider how The Penelopiad
primarily exemplifies the contextual implications of Atwood’s agenda as a
feminist writer. Atwood’s contemporary adaption exposes the corrupt, rapacious
world of the male hegemonic society which Penelope must endure in The Odyssey, her voice given the power
to emancipate not only herself but also her twelve maids through Atwood’s
choice of Penelope as the central narrator.

     In conjunction, this
essay will also address how Atwood further deviates from the Homerian epic via
the ambiguity of Odysseus as a character who is ‘unallied to any system of
morality’3 in
The Odyssey. By comparison,
Penelope’s perspective in The Penelopiad is
remarkably coherent in the message portrayed of her own external and internal
reality as separate from the myth. In relation to the contemporary context, the
ways in which Atwood’s authorial intent is perhaps suggestive of a social commentary
on the stoic nature of women under neopatriarchy in the 21st century
will also be elaborated upon.

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     Contrarily, an
opposing argument will also be evaluated to determine the extent of Atwood’s
continuation with the structures of Greek tragedy present in The Odyssey. Here, the theatrical
dimensions of both text’s will be examined to discern The Penelopiad’s departure from the reliance on a presupposed audience,
as was commonplace with the orality of Homerian epics which could not exist
without an audience. (397)

 

The socio-cultural milieu of The Odyssey has been dramatically inverted by The Penelopiad, Atwood’s interpretation serving to enhance the
feminine discourse absent in The Odyssey
through the narrative of Penelope herself. The prominent image of the Homeric
and thus, ancient Greek, female rested upon an epistemology put forward by an
idea of piety for divine God’s and Goddesses.

1
‘Homer 2.0’ Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/2005/12/12/penelopiad-atwood-review
(accessed 14 January 2018)

2
Irene de Jong, A Narratological
Commentary on the Odyssey (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press,
2001), 7.

3
Harold Bloom, ed., Bloom’s Modern
Critical Interpretation: The Odyssey, Updated Edition (New York: Infobase
Publishing, 2007), 2.

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