Connecting theory and fiction : Margaret Atwood's novels and second wave feminism
This thesis undertakes an examination of the manner in which a novelist interacts with a contemporary theoretical discourse. I argue that the novelist and the theoretical discourse enter into a symbiotic relationship in which each influences and is influenced by the other. This process, I suggest, is simultaneous and complex. The thesis demonstrates how the prevailing theoretical discourse is absorbed by the contemporary author, is developed and redefined in conjunction with alternative concerns, and comes to permeate the narrative in an altered state. The novelist's new perspectives, frequently problematising theoretical claims, are then disseminated by the novel, promoting further discussion and development of the theoretical discourse. The thesis focuses on the novels of Margaret Atwood, considering them in relation to the history and development of second wave feminism. "Second wave feminism" is understood as an umbrella term that incorporates a wide variety of related but diverse and occasionally contradictory discourses, centring on the subjects of gender, femininity, and sexuality. The focus of the discussion is dual and presented simultaneously. Atwood's novels are analysed chronologically, and within the parameter of this analysis I demonstrate how her work has been influenced by earlier feminist theories, how it comments upon a variety of contemporary feminist ideas, and how it can be seen to anticipate further discussions within feminist discourse. Finally, I identify moments in Atwood's writing when alternative discourses compete with feminism to create new directions for feminist criticism. Examples of these discourses include Canadian nationalism, liberalism, communitarianism and environmentalism. The specificity of the novelist's interests and politics create a unique site of interaction for feminism which, I argue, benefits feminist theory by challenging, broadening and diversifying its focus. The thesis concludes that the symbiotic relationship of the theorist and the novelist is self-perpetuating and is also necessary and beneficial to both parties.