A Woman’s Issue

‘A Woman’s Issue’ is a poem by Margaret Atwood which focuses on Atwood’s negative opinion of rape and abuse in war. The poem is split into 6 stanzas, giving four different gruesome images and then ending on a reflection. The poem is spoken as if someone is describing objects in a museum, “Exhibit A”. This conveys the fact that in some cultures women are objectified by men. The language is very simple and blunt, almost emotionless, so that anyone can read it and understand Atwood’s message. The blunt language could almost be seen as scientific and emotionless to show that men do not have sympathy for the women they rape, “The ones that die are carefully buried.” . Through this poem Atwood questions whether wars are fought for sex, “Is this why wars are fought?”.

The title immediately makes the reader think. The use of the word “Issue” in the title ‘A Woman’s Issue’ is a homonym, the phrase ‘a woman’s issue’ in medieval times was used to mean a woman’s time of the month, but the word ‘issue’ means a problem. This automatically makes the reader assume that the fact that women get pregnant is a problem.

Atwood uses grotesque descriptions to describe the abuse the girls received, “the spiked device”. The main device that makes these descriptions so graphic are the verbs; “jammed”, “scrape”, these show the pain that the women went through. As well as this the women are de-humanised, referred to as ‘exhibits’, they are objects there for man’s pleasing, “Men like tight women.”

Another device that Atwood uses is the use of ambiguous language. Atwood refers to a woman with “a net window”, probably referring to a veil, yet also conjures up images of being trapped in a net, a metaphor for women being trapped in their gender, not able to reach their full potential. The fifth stanza has lots of ambiguous language in it, comparing war to rape, and birth to death, “no man’s land to be entered furtively”, “doctor’s rubber gloves greasy with blood, flesh made inert”. The whole of the fifth stanza is a reflection on the fact that all these things are due to what is “between the legs”, and Atwood questions whether sex is “why wars are fought”.

The last stanza reveals that “This is no museum,”. Until now we assume that these horrific acts are tales of history, and yet Atwood now reminds us that these things still happen today. This is one of the main messages of the poem, that rape and abuse in war still occurs today, and that “love” is not part of it.

Thanks for reading,

Jack

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