Her first publication was a book of poetry, The Circle Game 1964, which received the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry (Canada), Several other poetry collections have followed since, including Interlunar (1995) , Morning in the Burned House (1995) and the latest, Eating Fire: Selected poetry, 1965-1995 (1998). She was also as a short story writer and her books of short fiction include Dancing Girls and Other stories (1982), Wilderness Tips (1991) and good Bones (1992).
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Margaret Atwood is best known for her novels, in which she created strong and puzzling women characters. Her first novel was The Edible Woman (1969), which is about a woman who cannot eat and feels that she is being eaten. Surfacing (1973); Lady Oracle (1977); Life Before Man (1980); Bodily Harm (1982 and The Handmaid’s Tale (1986) is a futuristic novel describing a woman’s struggle to break free from her role. Her latest novels have been; Cat’s Eye (1989), dealing with the subject of bullying among young girls; The Robber Bride (1993); Alias Grace (1996); The Blind Assassin (2000); and Oryx and Crake (2003), a version of a scientific dystopia. These novels have received many awards.
The most vital crisis in the life of a modern man is that of identity. Twentieth century literature reflects this very accurately. The important issue dealt in modern literature is the search for identity or “the quest for self.” The strength of today’s literature is found in its “evocation of the individual’s predicament in terms of alienation or exile or quest for identity.” (Srivastava 130)
In fiction, the attention has shifted from the society in the century to the individual in the twentieth century. The individual is given more important and man is seen as one who creates societies rather than one who is created by it. The subject of the “self” has gained universal importance and it, is most dominant in Common Wealth countries. The Common Wealth countries in the twentieth century feel that they do not belong anywhere as they were under the rule of the British for long time and the suddenly let free. These countries strive to seek a separate identity of their own new and the same is seen in their literature.
The Common Wealth writers feel that they have a responsibility in giving a unique identity to their countries. The question of identity first started with the nationality and slowly it narrowed down to the individual itself. Canada being a Common Wealth country faces both the problems of national and individual identity. The very word Canada gives the meaning. It is derived from the Spanish word “Canada”-“aca-nada” which means “nothing here”.
The search for a recognizable and meaningful Canadian has been a main Pre-occupation in Canada. M.F. Salat says that the Pre-occupation with self-definition and the search for a distinctive Canadian identity has been such a central aspect of Canadian imagination, it can be said , the discourse on identity is the Canadian discourse. (salat 62)
What distinguishes Canadian predicament from other Countries is the continuation of the identity crisis is the continuation of identity crisis over a long period of time. This is because Canada has never been free of what is called the “Colonial identity. ” In the beginning it was under the influence of the British culture and lately it suffers from the psycho- social and economic colonization by the United States of America.
The issue of the Canadian identity rose up most vehemently in the post 1960. It was mostly dealt by women writers as it was the period of the women’s Liberation Movement. The women writers also had a personal reason behind it as they wanted to establish their identity as writers without any prejudice on gender.
The Women’s Liberation Movement helped to release Canadian Women from many of the restrictions and inhibitions of the society. It helped to create the “new women”. This, says Barabara Godard, “astonished, amused and frightened Canadians in the period before the First World War.” (Janeja 172)
Many women took to writing as a profession and portrayed their ambitions and aspirations of the “new women” Their writings portrayed their yearning for freedom from the limited constrains of a conventional society. In Canada women began to assert consciously and confidently their potential as writers in the post- 1960’s. The wide – spread preoccupation with the quest for a distinctive cultural identity in Canada in the post 1960’s, was responsible for strengthening the desire to assert a distinctive feminine identity comparable to and compatible with the male, in culture as well as in literature. (salat 78)
The most important women writers of this period are Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Ruby Wiebe, and Alice Munro. A among these writers the most noticed and appreciated. Women writers is Margaret Atwood. Atwood has implicit and successfully problematised Canada’s quest for identity in her novels by making her women protagonists undergo a similar crisis. She has a predominantly feminine search for a distinctive identity.
Atwood’s reaction to this sensitive issue of identity has been the most articulate and she has deliberately set out to create all her novels in such a way that towards the end, each of her protagonists emerges as a woman who knows her own self.
Margaret Atwood is a Canadian novelist, poet, short-story writer and also a well established critic. She was born in Ottawa in 1939. She spent a considerable part of her early life in the northern Ontoria and Quebec bush country. She started writing at the early age of five. Her father who is an entomologist often took his family on field trips. This produced in Atwood an early and an avid interest in the wilderness. In 1946, the family went to Leaside, a suburb of Toronto and settled there. This change is also reflected in her writing.
“The contrasts beween its Christian, middle-class morality and its blatant materialism define the spiritual wasteland through which many of Atwood’s characters pass on their way from childhood to maturity.(75)”
Atwood is a graduate from the University of Toronto, where she won a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. She took her Master’s Degree from Radcliffe College. Since 1973 Atwood has live with Graeme Gibson a Canadian novelist and Cultural activist. They have a daughter, Eleanor Jess. They now live in Toronto. Atwood has been a “write- in residence ” at Universities in Canada, the USA and Australia. She has taught in several Universities such as the University of British Columbia, the University of Alberta, Sir George Williams University, Montreal and at ‘York University’ Toronto. She was the founding member of the writers’ Union 1984-86. She is still an effective spokesperson, and activist on behalf of Canadian writers and of women’s right, Native rights and the environment.