The cycle of life is accompanied from the early beginning till present time by the fight of good and evil. These two requisite parts of our world create a form of equilibrium. We can find the struggle between good and evil in many contemporary literary works but also in works written ages ago. Whether we take into consideration only world famous works or also less famous works, we can find this eternal struggle in certain quantity in each of them. The Robber Bride is not an exception.
Margaret Atwood, a world famous writer, is the author of many compelling novels like The Handmaid’s Tale, The Cat’s Eye, Alias Grace and The Robber Bride. She is famous for her thrilling stories, detailed descriptions, sudden reversions and untied ends which provoke the reader’s imagination yet she still presents them in an unconventional way.
The aim of this diploma thesis is to take a closer look at the remarkable novel, The Robber Bride. The Robber Bride, written in 1993, is not a novel of just one genre. It contains various features of Gothic and postmodern novel. It is a masterpiece that deserves particular attention. This research paper is designed to bring out various interpretations of respected literary critics and suggest some absorbing speculations at the same time. It attempts to answer some specific questions which the book certainly offers.
This thesis is divided into several chapters and as it is focused on the analysis of a literary work, it is useful to begin with the analysis of the period which the book belongs to, which is postmodernism. To define the term postmodernism is rather difficult task as it carries some different features in each part of the world. Hence we will mainly focus on postmodernism in Canadian and North American literature. Typical features, main representatives and conditions for development of postmodernism will be analysed in first chapter.
The second chapter, the short one, is some kind of introduction into the topic. It briefly describes the plot of the story, form of the book and also the social background of The Robber Bride.
Later on, as The Robber Bride is considered to contain Gothic and postmodern features at the same time, we will take a closer look at Gothic novel as a genre. Typical features and symbols of Gothic novel in general and particularly in The Robber Bride will be analysed in third chapter. The multiplicity of subject and the existence of the violent duality will be the main issues of this chapter.
Forasmuch as postmodern novel is rather complex genre with its typical features like hypertextuality, intertextuality, subject matters and many others, we will spend more time dealing with mentioned features in fourth chapter.
A separate chapter will be given to the interpretation and analysis of the main protagonist of The Robber Bride. We can clearly say that Zenia is the main and most interesting protagonist of this novel. Although, the story is told by the eyes of her three friends, Tony, Roz and Charis and we get only little information directly from Zenia, the deeper analysis of Zenia’s behaviour and life is fundamental for correct understanding and interpretation of the novel.
The final chapter will be devoted to the three male characters of The Robber Bride. The aim of this chapter will be the analysis of their way of behaving, their inner world, and speculation about their possible emotional incompetence.
This thesis will be based on relevant sources containing arguments and interpretations of respected literary critics. With their notable support, this paper should reach the complexity and proficiency of high rank.
1 THE ORIGIN OF POSTMODERNISM
„That is postmodern.” How many times have you heard this phrase? People use this phrase more and more often nowadays. What do they want to express by using it? Is it just a cliché or does it carries a much deeper meaning? When trying to answer this question we have to go deeper and try to answer the question what is postmodernism. Even non-expert can clearly see that this word consists of two parts. Post meaning after and modernism meaning something modern. This is really just a non-expert explanation without any further knowledge about important features and characteristic. If we would like to analyze this term from professional and more complex point of view, the answer would be much longer.
Postmodernism is a rather complicated term or set of ideas. It is not easy to define postmodernism, because we cannot locate it temporally or historically so we cannot exactly say when postmodernism begins. Another problem while defining postmodernism is that it appears in wide areas of study and life, including architecture, music, art, film, literature, communications, sociology, technology and fashion and carries specific features in each branch or area.
The easiest way when defining postmodernism is probably to define the term modernism. Modernism as a cultural movement which spread around the world in the last two centuries seems to be the predecessor of postmodernism or in other words, postmodernism seems to grow up from or is kind of reaction to modernism. So what actually the term modernism means?
“Modernism is a cultural movement that generally includes progressive art and architecture, music and literature which emerged in the decades before 1914, as artists rebelled against late 19th century academic and historicist traditions.” (Wikipedia, 2006)
The basic principle of the modernist movement lies within the rejection of old Victorian standards of how art, music and literature should be made, used and what it should express and mean. Followers of modernism rejected traditional forms of literature, art, social organization, the way of thinking and daily life as they thought that it is obsolete and it needs to be rejected to achieve some kind of modernization.
As with postmodernism, it is not easy to say when exactly modernism begins. The year 1890 could be regarded as the beginning of this movement even the term modern used for marking of the modern era is much older and dates to the middle of the eighteenth century, to the era of European Enlightenment. The period from the beginning till the year 1910 could be regarded as the era of beginning. After the First World War, the era of explosion of modernism begins. This period lasted from around 1910 to 1930 and is significantly marked with the names as D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Joseph Conrad, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens and Franz Kafka who are considered to be the most important representatives of twentieth-century modernism. We cannot state the exact year when the modernism ends as it is closely connected to the postmodernism and in some way it persists till nowadays.
1.1 FROM MODERNISM TO POSTMODERNISM
Defining postmodernism as a completely new and separated movement is not as definite as it could look like. Even some philosophers argue for such a distinction, others dispute it and consider postmodernism just as a part of modernism. Although certain distinctions could be made between the era of modernism and the era of postmodernism, there are still many connections between them.
One way of defining postmodernism as a philosophical movement would be to describe it as a certain form of scepticism - scepticism about received knowledge, authority, cultural traditions and political rules.
Another way of describing typical features and basic principles of postmodernism would be to use the theory of French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard, probably the leading figure of postmodernism. According to Stuart Sim, the author of The Routledge Companion to Postmodernism, Lyotard’s book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge written in 1979 can be regarded as the most powerful theoretical expression of postmodernism.
According to Sim’s explanation, Lyotard grounds his theory on so called “grand narratives” which are some sorts of universal theories. He leads us to the rejection of “grand narratives” of Western culture as he thinks that they have lost all their reliability.
Many others representatives contributed to the expansion of postmodernism. Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard are just some that are closely connected to and are regarded as basis of postmodern philosophy.
Another way of looking at the relation between postmodernism and modernism helps to explain some of these distinctions. According to literary critic Frederic Jameson, modernism and postmodernism are cultural formations which accompany particular stages of capitalism. Jameson defines three primary stages of capitalism which determine specific cultural performances.
The first is so called market capitalism, which began in the eighteenth and lasted till the late nineteenth century in Western Europe and the United States. This first phase is associated mainly with unique technological inventions, as for instance the steam-driven motor and with a particular kind of aesthetics, namely realism.
The second phase lasted from the late nineteenth century until the middle of the twentieth century, approximately after the end of the Second World War. This phase, which is also called monopoly capitalism, is associated with electric motors and with the philosophy of modernism.
The third phase, beginning after the Second World War and still persisting nowadays, is called consumer or multinational capitalism and is associated with electronic and nuclear technologies and closely connected with the ideas of postmodernism. Its main emphasis is set on selling, marketing and consuming products, the production of them is not so important.
As mentioned earlier, postmodernism has demonstrations in wide areas of life. We can see its impact in philosophy, theology, sociology, architecture, art, theatre, film, television, music, technology, fashion and literature.
1.2 POSTMODERN LITERATURE
We cannot define the exact rise of postmodern literature but the death of most famous modernist writer James Joyce in 1941 or the end of the Second World War are considered to be the beginnings of postmodern literature. Literature of this period is not completely against ideas of modern literature. It extends and develops modern style in its own way. Both modern and postmodern literature rejects the ideas of realism which took place in nineteenth century and is some kind of opposite to this period.
Postmodernism, like modernism tries to blur the distinction between genres, rejects boundaries between high and low forms of art and emphasizes various kinds of fragmented, mixed forms and ideas, discontinuity, parody, ironic approach and playfulness. Even with some similarity relation, it is different mainly in understanding and using of many literary components and techniques. The best example to demonstrate how modernism and postmodernism operates with the same forms but in different ways would be the example of fragmentation. While modernism uses fragmented view of human existence and presents that fragmentation as something tragic and catastrophic, postmodernism uses it in opposite way. It does not wail about the idea of fragmentation but rather celebrates it.
Although modernism and postmodernism share some similar features, there are some special features and techniques which occur only in postmodern literature. One and most significant feature of works belonging to the postmodern era is use of pastiche. It originates from the Italian word pasticcio which means mix of various ingredients.
“Pastiching an individual writer is rather like creating an anagram, not of letters, but of the components of a style.” (Sim, S., 2001, p. 125).
Thus pastiche is some kind of transfer of certain features from one work or genre into another. This method is characteristics for postmodern literature as many philosophers and authors thought that everything has been used before and that there is nothing new they could use in their works. This feature then often occurred in detective and sci-fi postmodern novels.
Another term used typically with postmodern writers is looseness of association. According to Stuart Sim, a good example for demonstration of this technique could be the work The Unfortunates written by B.S.Johnson. It consists of several chapters which could be read in random order without loosing or shifting the meaning. Only the first and the last chapter are labelled, the others can be mixed. This is just a single example as there were many different techniques of using loose associations.
Whereas postmodernism did not have exactly the same form all over the world, we will focus our attention on postmodern trends in Western literatures, especially North American literature.
1.3 POSTMODERNISM IN CANADIAN LITERATURE
Canadian literature as a literature of an independent nation has got a long tradition and focusing our attention on the whole outline would be not only useless but also nearly impossible. After all, it is not our primary aim. What is more important, and will also be contributive to our further analysis is the period of modernism and postmodernism.
Typical feature of modernism in Canadian literature is that it occurred a little later than in other parts of the world. In the early years of the twentieth century when modernism was at it heights in Europe and the United States, realism was still the most powerful literary movement in Canadian writing. Modernism and its tendencies such as formalism and surrealism came only sporadically to Canada. Some critics even suggest that Canadian literature evolved directly from Victorian to postmodern. Even though modern trends in literature did not influenced Canadian literature in a great way, they clearly had some influence on the authors of that period and much more on the further development of the successor of modernism; postmodernism. As mentioned earlier, postmodernism is a kind of continuation of modernism on the one hand, while on the other hand it is a division from it. Many postmodern authors have isolated themselves from a certain secretiveness and preferring of high art over popular culture forms of writing. Popularization and increased interest in narrative, especially the form of “the writer as storyteller” narrative is typical for the postmodern period in Canadian literature. What is even more interesting and significant for Canadian authors writing in the middle of the twentieth century is, as Stuart Sim informs us, blending of the high literary tradition of print culture with the folk tales, tall tales and local legends of popular oral culture.
1.4 WRITING BY WOMEN
Another significant feature of postmodern Canadian writing, as long as we talk about novel, is literature written by female writers. Names as Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Carol Shields who started publishing in the 1960s and 1970s are names that made Canadian writing famous and popular all over the world. This is also period when Canadian writing achieved its highest visibility and popularity at home and also abroad and some of these writers are still publishing their works at the present time. But what is so distinctive about these female writers? What factors made them more visible and popular?
Firstly, one of the factors that influenced conditions for writing in Canada since the 1960s in a great way includes changing of social and cultural contexts as well as opportunities for publication. The rise of Canadian cultural nationalism in the late 1960s together with the rise of North American wave of feminism is another important factor that contributed to the expansion and prominence of Canadian literature.
The generation of women writers who began publishing in the 1960s were causal that time women. Most of them followed traditional social patterns, got married and had children before they started to act as writers.
“All through the 50s I was living in the dormitory suburb in Vancouver, having babies, and writing was not part of the accepted thing for a girl or a woman to do at that time either, but it never occurred to me that I should stop.” (Kröller, E-M., 2004, p.198)
These words of Alice Munro, typical representative of woman writers starting in 1950s and 1960s are only a single proof of this phenomenon. Carol Shields, another postmodern representative of Canadian literature was also influenced of that time society. Even she had five children and her first novel was published only when she was forty, she had more optimistic view about being a mother and writing.
“Having children woke me up, in a sense. I knew I had to pay attention. I wanted to pay attention. All my senses seemed sharpened, and I seemed capable of more. Like many a parent, I was astonished to discover how much love I was capable of feeling…In some way this revelation spilled over into writing.”
(Kröller, E-M., 2004, p.199)
Margaret Atwood and her career is probably the only exception among all the women writers of the 1960s. She became famous and also won her first Governor-General’s Award for poetry while still a graduate student and published three novels by the time she became mother. Her style was remarkably distinctive from the early beginning; it was witty, self-ironic and politically and morally engaged. Even though she focused her attention on different matters over four decades, her major thematic interest lies in such themes as gender deliberations, depiction of women’s lives and their bodies, feelings and fantasies, human rights issues, questions of Canadian identity and multiculturalism in Canada and environmental concerns.
“Reviewers of Margaret Atwood’s work have attempted to categorize her as a feminist writer, for her incisive commentaries on sex roles; a religious writer, for her visions of spiritual ecstasy; a Gothic writer, for her images of grotesque, misfits, and surreal disorientations of the psyche; a writer of the Canadian wilderness; a nationalist writer and a regionalist.” (Rosenberg, J. H., 1984, p.15)
Margaret Atwood definitely was and probably still is the leading figure of Canadian literature. She developed her own individual and unique style of writing and with her works published in fifteen countries, she got famous all over the world. One literary work, not the most recent one, but certainly one of the most debated novels is the remarkable novel The Robber Bride.
2. THE ROBBER BRIDE
The story of The Robber Bride begins as three old university friends, Tony – a professor of history, Charis – a flower child and Roz – a flourishing contractor, are meeting for their ordinary lunch in a stylish restaurant called The Toxique. They meet once a month just to talk about their lives, about new fashion, about anything that three middle-aged women could be interested in. Even they know each other from the university times, they are not friends in the real sense of the word.
“They don’t have much in common except the catastrophe that brought them together, if Zenia can be called a catastrophe; but over time they’ve developed a loyalty to one another, an spirit de corps.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 33)
Zenia - their schoolmate and the person who made their lives bitter and burdensome. Zenia - the evil marauder, Zenia – the amoral villain who has the power to uncover weaknesses of her opponents and use them against anybody who stands in her way. Zenia – the person which is already dead. At least this is what the three women believe.
As they are sitting and enjoying their regular lunch meeting, Tony spots something she cannot believe. Something which is impossible and what makes her heart clench, clench like a fist and plummet. Their long-time enemy is standing in the door. Zenia returns from the dead. Five years after her putative death she comes back just out of nowhere to perform even bigger atrocity than she did during her life. She returns to hurt their old schoolmates and they know it.
The form of The Robber Bride is rather unique. The book itself begins with chapter called Onset where Tony speculates upon Zenia, upon her life and death. It also contains author’s lead-in where we find out the period and also the world condition when the story begins, the date is 23. October 1990.
The next chapter, The Toxique, taking place in present is the real beginning of the story. It briefly introduces contemporary life of Tony, Roz and Charis and the day when they are meeting for their regular lunch in restaurant. It is the day when they meet Zenia.
The next three chapters of the book, Black Enamel, Weasel Nights and The Robber Bride are flashbacks of the three female heroines. The first one, Black Enamel, taking place in 1960s is a kind of Tony’s narrative about her university times and about times when she meets Zenia. The second one, Weasel Nights, is part where Charis reflects her memoirs about childhood and her own awkward experience with man-eater Zenia, taking place in 1970s. And the third one, The Robber Bride, taking place in 1980s is recollection of businesswoman Roz about encounter with Zenia and about fair damage she suffered.
The story then returns back into the present times in the last but one chapter called The Toxique where the three main protagonists, Tony, Charis and Roz individually meet with Zenia. The story ends with vague death of Zenia.
The last chapter called Outcome is again some kind of Tony’s spiritual speculation about Zenia. In this chapter Atwood also describes political situation in world with focus on war conflicts in Africa and postwar system of communist countries. The date is November 11, 1991.
The year 1993, the year when The Robber Bride was published stands for significant moment of Margaret Atwood’s life. Although she had published many interesting and flourishing novels before, The Robber Bride entered the history of postmodern literature as most debated and favourite novel. The discussions went on over lunch, between meetings and anywhere possible. People all over the world discussed the story of three heroines and an evil marauder Zenia. What was her true origin? How did she die? Did Charis kill her? Is this story just a fiction? These questions and many even more sophisticated assumptions could not get out of readers heads. The titles of world-renowned daily press were full of compliments about The Robber Bride.
“Atwood has never written better than in this novel of glittering breath and dark, eerie depths.”
– The Sunday Times (U.K.)
“Funny, thoughtful, moving…Atwood’s plotting is masterful, and her humor is razor-edged, sexy, and raucous.”
- Washington Post
What is so unique about this book? What forces people to read this book and to speculate about it even long after they read it? What made the world most-respected magazines magnify it in such a manner? Is it really worth reading? To answer these and similar questions, one needs to analyze this book from more detailed and precise point of view.
Literary critics as Eleonora Rao, Paulina Palmer and Hilde Staels categorized The Robber Bride as postmodern Gothic romance. Even if we cannot split the book into two separate parts, one containing traditional Gothic motifs like magic mirrors, shape-shifters and evil characters and the other using typical postmodern features, we can understand the deeper meaning of their influence by the further analysis.
To define the term Gothicism is not an easy task. It is a complex set of ideas and the best way to give reader a clue about Gothicism is to demonstrate its influence on concrete example.
"The chickens are all dead. Every single one of them, dead in their boxes, two of them on the floor. There is blood all over the place, on the straw, dripping down from the boxes. She picks up one of the dead hens from the floor: there’s a slit in its throat."
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 331)
This is a short demonstration of Gothic influence on The Robber Bride. As we can see from the extract, the style of the writing and also the content are rather scary which is typical for all Gothic novels. So what does the term Gothic novel mean and what are its typical features and motifs?
“It is a type of romance very popular from the 1760s onwards until the 1820s. It has had a considerable influence on fiction since (still apparent in the 1990s), and is of much importance in the evolution of the ghost story and the horror story.” (Cuddon, A., 1998, p. 132)
According to J.A. Cudden, the year 1764 and publishing of Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto can be considered to be the beginning of Gothic novel. It was a very popular book at the time and it has major influence on the development of the genre of Gothic novel.
If one would like to describe Gothic novel with just one word, he or she would probably use the word fear. To evoke the feeling of horror and fear, Gothic authors used various motifs, symbols and ideas. Places as dark forests, foggy tombs, medieval castles, dangerous dungeons, ruined abbeys, unexplored chambers and characters as brave heroes, powerless virgins, evil witches, terrible monsters and wicked tyrants are just some of the most often used motifs of the Gothic novels. And together with demonic power, dark magic and supernatural abilities, they create perfect atmosphere characteristic just for Gothic novels.
3.1 GOTHIC INFLUENCE ON THE ROBBER BRIDE
At the beginning we said that The Robber Bride is a postmodern Gothic novel. As it was written in 1993, it can hardly be considered as a classical Gothic novel. However, it contains various motifs and images that can be considered to be the traditional Gothic motifs. For instance, the atmosphere of mystery and shadiness goes along with reader through the whole book. We do not know who Zenia really is and how is it possible that she is alive. Together with vague acts, like unexplained death of Charis’ chickens or also Zenia’s death, they create the feeling of doubt and uncertainty. Moreover, Zenia could be considered to be a vampire in a sense. She has no wings and is not sanguivorous but there is something she sucks from men.
“He looks as if he’s been drifting around in deep space, where it’s cold and empty and there are things with tentacles, and has just barely made it back to Earth. A stunned look, a conked-on-the-head look. Mugged, pushed face first against a brick wall, crammed into a trunk, tossed half-naked onto the stony roadside, and he didn’t even see who did it.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 451)
If one would not know that this quotation comes from The Robber Bride, one could think that the described person is a victim of vampire. That it is a person sucked out of blood. It is not blood that Zenia steals, it is life or better said, lust for life.
However, The Robber Bride does not contain only traditional Gothic motifs. On the one hand, Margaret Atwood used various traditional dark motifs but on the other hand, she used some Gothic motifs in a different way; she ironizes them. One of the classical motifs of Gothic novel is a tyrannical male who threatens and haunts women. However, this feature is not completely upside-down in The Robber Bride. Although it is Zenia who haunts and threatens her ‘enemies’ yet her victims are women instead of men. Men are just loot or some kind of an instrument which Zenia uses to spread the misery and sorrow.
Forasmuch as The Robber Bride contains various Gothic motifs of significant importance, it would be useful to focus our attention on them.
3.2 THE OTHER SELF
One of the most often used and most typical Gothic feature is the use of the monstrous Other. So, what exactly does the term Other self represent? The general theory says that all people consist of Self and Other. In other words, the theory says, that all people possess something what is called dark double, the Other self or similar expressions are used to describe this feature. This Other self is usually hidden deep inside, it usually possess opposite qualities as our real Self and shows itself just under certain conditions. Though it is not total opposite of one’s real Self. In Gothic novels, the Other self is usually negative and possess qualities that are dangerous and therefore is hidden deep inside somebody’s subconscious. However, it is able to come to the surface under unknown conditions and this is where the struggle between Self and Other begins.
“In the borderline territory between conscious and unconscious, a space is opened up for doubles and split selves, which are not total opposites but dependent on each other and linked by a kind of unacknowledged complicit, like Dr Frankenstein and his monster.”
(Howells, C. A., 1996, p. 63)
The struggle between Self and Other is quite often used as the central motive of Gothic novels. The Robber Bride as a non-typical Gothic novel contains the motive of otherness yet it is not the most dominant one. However, it plays rather important role in the creation of dark and fearsome atmosphere.
According to Hilde Staels, the author of the book Margaret Atwood's novels: a study of narrative discourse, The Robber Bride offers no obvious innovations in terms of narrative technique. It structurally explores the dramatic conflict between the “stable” identity of three protagonists and the doppelgänger figure called Zenia who represents the repressed part of the self.
There is no doubt that Zenia is considered to be Tony’s, Roz’s and Charis’ dark twin or at least, their dark doubles are very similar to Zenia. It is very interesting to watch the fact that although each of the three women is completely different from each other and so are they dark doubles, they are similar or identical if you want with just one person at the same time, they are identical with Zenia. Therefore their analysis deserves our special attention.
Antonia Fremont, or Tony if you want, was an unwanted child as we know. Her mother always wanted her to be someone else and her father was completely uninterested in her. Tony was left-handed person since she was born but her parents and the whole that time society did not want to accept this fact. She was forced to be somebody else, she was forced to use her right hand. Yet her left-handedness could not be repressed completely. Thus she ‘created’ her other self, her dark twin who used to speak with language that was rather unique. This language consisted of common words but spelled backwards.
“Tony’s other language isn’t evil, however. It’s dangerous only to her. It’s her seam, it’s where she’s sewn together, it’s where she could split apart. Nevertheless she still indulges in it.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 21)
Hence comes her other name, Tnomerf Ynot. When she was young, she used to imagine that this is the name of her twin, invisible twin. Although Tnomerf Ynot was a twin, she was taller than Tony herself. She was taller, stronger and more daring as Atwood informs us. Ynot used her left hand just for everything and she was good at it. She was clever while Tony had to use her right hand what caused her much difficulty. Tony wanted to be Ynot but she could not. Ynot was strong and from time to time, Tony used to imagine her as barbaric leader with giant strength. The sudden disappearance of her mother even strengthened the difference between her Self and Other.
“Here Tony’s memory divides, into what she wanted to happen and what actually did happen.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 180)
At the time Tony grows up, her dark twin still accompanies her. Tony uses Ynot’s language in everyday life, it looks as if they cooperate in a certain harmony yet Tony is still the dominant one. However, Tony’s dominancy over Ynot lasts until the time she meets Zenia. Zenia has the special ability that makes feel Tony as she always wanted, to feel like Tnomerf Ynot. Zenia wakes up the long-time repressed Ynot and Tony is not against such transformation of her identity. When she finds out that she and Zenia share more similarities than she used to think, her other self identifies itself with Zenia.
“Tony looks at her, looks into her blue-black eyes, and sees her own reflection: herself, as she would like to be. Tnomerf Ynot. Herself turned inside out.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 197)
Tony’s other self takes control over her. And even Zenia tricks her and lures her husband away, serious part of her other self remains inside her and is not as angry about Zenia as one would expect. This hidden part still influences Tony and it wants to cheer Zenia on, even to encourage her.
However, nearly thirty years later, when Zenia returns from the dead to inflict some more damage to Tony, her dark twin wakes up. Tnomerf Ynot, queen of the barbarians is ready to deal with Zenia in a way that Tony would be never able to agree on. She is ready to kill Zenia.
The New Age woman Charis had miserable childhood as well. She did not know her father and her mother used to beat her quite often, she was abused. When she was young, her name was not Charis but Karen. At the time when her mother ended up in hospital, Karen was moved to her uncle and aunt. However, her bad experience did not end, they started to get even worse. Her uncle Vern sexually abused her since she moved to them although she was just at the age of nine. Under these circumstances, her other self ‘is born’.
“Then he falls on top of Karen and puts his slabby hand over her mouth, and splits her in two. He splits her in two right up the middle and her skin comes open like the dry skin of a cocoon, and Charis flies out.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 31)
Every time her uncle abuses her, she swaps to Charis, spiritually flies out of her body and watch the disgusting act of rape from behind the curtain. Karen is the poor little girl who is helpless against her uncle while Charis is the strong one. When she grows breasts and has her first period, uncle Vern stops abusing her. Now, he seems to be afraid of her. Although he stopped abusing her, Karen begins to feel that she needs to get rid of the filth that Vern left inside her so she splits herself in two and stays with the stronger part of herself which is also clearer, she stays with Charis. When she was twenty-six she disposed her old name once and for all.
“Karen was a leather bag, a grey one. Charis collected everything she didn’t want and shoved it into this name, this leather bag, and tied it shut. She threw away as many of the old wounds and poisons as she could.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 315)
However, about ten years later, the repressed Karen returns. It happens at the time when Charis takes care about Zenia. After Zenia blames Billy of trying to get her in bed, Charis begins to suspect him. That night, Karen returns from the bottom of the lake and enters Charis. That night is the only one when Charis enjoys the sex with Billy, he considers the intercourse to be different from the others and it is also the night when her daughter August is conceived. From this time on, Charis was different.
“When she makes love with Billy she doesn’t think about being Karen, or Charis either. She thinks about being Zenia.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 317)
Karen stays inside her, yet Charis does not know exactly where. She is there, she is waiting for the right moment to burst open. And she does when Zenia lures Billy away. She tries to persuade Charis to commit suicide.
“That is Karen speaking. Karen is back, Karen has control of their body. Karen is angry with her, Karen is desolate, Karen is sick with disgust, Karen wants them to die.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 333)
Finally, Charis manages to get control over Karen and to repress her back to her deep unconsciousness. However, twenty years later, Karen returns and tries to take control over Charis again just for she could kill Zenia.
Businesswoman Roz perfectly fits into the pattern of bad childhood and dual identities. She did not know her father for a long time and her mother used her as a servant. When her father returned from war, her life changed.
“Now Roz’s life has been cut in two. On one side is Roz, and her mother, and the rooming house… On the other side is her father, filling the kitchen with his bulk, his loud voice…”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 398)
At this time, her name was Rosalind Greenwood. She could not use her real name, which was Roz Grunwald, because it sounded a bit Jewish and it was rather dangerous to have anything in common with Jews at the time. When they got rich and it was not dangerous any more to bear her real name, she swapped them. They could afford almost everything and she enjoyed this worriless life. When she was around her twenties, she met Mitch, her future husband. Forasmuch as she was rather rich at the time and not everybody liked it, she was using another fake name which was Rosie O’Grady. And after they married, her name changed again. She was not Roz Grunwald anymore, she was Roz Andrews. We have four different names for the same person. Every time she swapped her name for another one, her identity underwent certain mutation as well. As Rosalind Greenwood she had to take care about the household, she was under the strong influence of her mother and she enjoyed the wardrobe and style of Mrs. Morley. As Roz Grunwald, she did not have to do the domestic services any more, she got under the influence of her father and she became stylish. Rosie O’Grady was just a cover name to keep away from unwanted followers. After the wedding, Roz Andrews got under the strong influence of Mitch and she became a good mother and loving wife.
However, few years later, when Zenia occurs and claims that she knows some important facts about Roz’s father, about his bravery, Roz changes into curious and proud lady. She always wanted to find the truth about her father so she lets Zenia enter her life. Yet there is another thing that makes her to the crucial mistake. She likes Zenia, she likes her appearance, they way she walks, the way she talks. She likes her style and it reminds her the one of Mrs. Morley. The style and look Roz always wanted to possess. She was a good mother to her children and faithful wife to her husband yet deep inside her unconscious she wanted to be somebody else. She wanted to be stylish, modern and pretty temptress.
“Either way, she would like to be someone else. But not just anyone. Sometimes – for a day at least, or even for an hour, or if nothing else was available then five minutes would do – sometimes she would like to be Zenia.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 473)
All her life, she was somebody else, at least she pretended to be somebody else. Her life was split but not just in two. She always was what people expected her to be yet she wanted to be somebody else.
“Why shouldn’t they put on clown faces to cover up their distress? It’s a trick they’ve learned from her. It’s a trick that works.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 474)
All the three Zenia’s victims, Tony, Charis and Roz, possessed the other self which was very similar to Zenia herself. She was their other self. Indeed, they were completely different persons, they found their other self in just one woman, they found it in Zenia. This implies, that even Zenia had her other self or at least, she used ‘clown faces’ that tricked the three women.
“How well she did it, thinks Tony. How completely she took us in. In the war of the sexes, which is nothing like a real war but is instead a kind of confused scrimmage in which people change allegiances at a moment’s notice, Zenia was a double agent. Or not even that, because Zenia wasn’t working for one side or the other. She was on no side but her own.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 218)
Zenia was the ultimate player with not just one face. She had three different life stories, one for each victim and she always reflected Tony’s, Charis’ and Roz’s other self. She was their other self. She was their mirror.
When I read The Robber Bride for the first time, I noticed one interesting detail. The word ‘mirror’ appeared quite often in the text. Even though I did not know the exact reason for the frequent use of this word at the time, I knew that it will play rather significant role in the interpretation of the book.
A mirror - a common everyday instrument. We use it in the traffic to avoid car accidents, we use it in the households as a stylish decoration and we also use it just to check our actual appearance. What is so unique about mirrors? What significant role could they play in Gothic novels? The very special quality of every mirror is that it reflects the reality in sort of true way. We can see our own shape at the time we look in the mirror but it is not our exact image. It is always inverted.
Mirrors play various roles in Gothic novels but there is one feature that is common for all of them. They always possess some supernatural ability. In the first place, they are considered to be some kind of gate or portal which connects two parallel worlds. Usually, dark creatures and monsters come through a portal into our world. And in the second place, they are often used to display the other self and repressed part of one’s identity. They are considered to possess some supernatural ability which allows its onlooker to ‘change’ his or her appearance and behaviour. In other words, it changes its onlooker into his or her other self or vice-versa.
The rise of central protagonist, Zenia, is performed by her appearance in the long smoked-glass mirror in The Toxique restaurant.
“Tony feels a chill. The door must have opened. She looks up, and into the mirror. Zenia is standing here, behind her, in the smoke, in the glass, in this room. Not someone who looks like Zenia: Zenia herself.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 37)
Tony is the one who spots her in the mirror and she is rather terrified. She cannot believe Zenia is there. Although each of them was slightly prepared for possible Zenia’s comeback but it was just too sudden to stay cool. They all considered her to be dead. Zenia returns through the mirror from the dead. She ‘uses’ the mirror as a portal to get back from the dead to the ‘real’ word of Tony, Charis and Roz and to haunt them.
Tony expresses her surprise and apprehensions in an unconventional way as she would have considered the mirror to be the portal between the world of dead and the world of alive.
“What is she doing here, on this side of the mirror?”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 40)
The use of mirrors to display the other self or repressed part of somebody’s identity is quite common in Gothic novels and The Robber Bride is not an exception. Forasmuch as the presence of the other self and the struggle between the real and the other self could be considered to be the central motive of the book, mirrors are often used to illustrate this eternal struggle.
The situation when Tony, Charis and Roz meet Zenia in the Toxique restaurant five years after her putative death influences them in a serious way. We can say that each protagonist undergoes the conversion into her other self or at least this conversion begins to appear. When Tony gets home and hears West calling her, she uses the hall mirror to swap between her two different faces.
“Tony checks her face in the hall mirror, settling it into what she hopes is her normal expression.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 43)
There is no doubt that Tony was rather excited after the encounter with Zenia and that her other self began to dominate and command her. When she gets home, she tries to get back to the normal by using the mirror. The mirror works as some kind of shape shifter which allows her to hide her excitement and distress.
For Charis, the encounter with Zenia was also rather extraordinary and forced her to show her other self. Yet there was nobody she should hide her repressed part from, she did not need the special ability of mirrors at the time. However, she had some experience in using them in the past. She underwent the conversion into her other self by the influence of mirror at the time Zenia invaded her life in 1970s. It happened shortly after Charis’ conversation with Zenia about Billy. When Zenia told her that Billy can hardly keep his hands off her, Charis is really confused and does not believe what Zenia says. But she starts to suspect Billy.
That night, when Billy returns from the city late in the night and is not interested in Charis at all, her other self Karen begins to rise.
“It’s Karen, it’s banished Karen. She has travelled a long distance. Now she’s coming nearer, with that cowed, powerless face Charis used to see in the mirror looming up to her own face, blown towards her through the darkness like an ousted ghost, towards this house where she has been islanded, thinking herself safe; demanding to enter her, to rejoin her, to share in her body once again.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 273)
It is not a dream, Charis is awake. Rising suspicion of Billy summons the long-time repressed Karen and this time Charis cannot repress her. Once again, mirror is the mediator.
However, Charis experience ‘the mirror matter’ in the present time as well. All the three protagonists have a dream shortly before the final encounter with Zenia. On the one hand, Charis’ dream is more like a nightmare for she merges with the dangerous Zenia into one body. On the other hand, Charis is not afraid of this mergence for she feels certain power, she feels strong like Zenia and that what she always wanted to be.
“Zenia sees Charis and motions to her, and Charis goes close and then closer, and she sees the two of them side by side in the mirror. Then Zenia’s edges dissolve like a watercolour in the rain and Charis merges into her. She slides her on like a glove, she slips into her like a flesh dress, she looks out through her eyes. What she sees is herself, herself in the mirror, herself with power.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 479)
She watches this strange transformation in the mirror. The mirror is used to fulfil the transformation of the other self again.
Roz’s play with mirrors is slightly different. She used the special mirror ability in the past many times. Roz always wanted to be perfect, to be perfect in everything. She wanted to affect people in positive way and she uses mirrors to achieve this.
“She checks her front teeth for lipstick in the rear-view mirror – well, these things count – and walks briskly, she hopes it looks briskly, into the reception area.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 104)
Yet again we can consider these mirrors to be shape shifters. Maybe Roz’s real face is not sympathetic so she uses mirrors to swap it into the other face, the face that affects people positively. She tries to be somebody else. However, mirrors operate as shape shifters and affect not just Roz. They affect also her husband Mitch.
“She looks at his face in the mirror, and he smiles at her. She always finds his mirror reflection disconcerting. Lopsided, because she isn’t used to seeing him that way around and he looks reversed.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 360)
Roz is not able to see the true face of Mitch. She manages just by the use of mirror. She notes that there is something wrong about his reflection, that the reflection is other than his real shape. Perhaps, she is able to see Mitch’s true face, the face of woman-chaser, just under the influence of mirror. Yet she does not realize that.
Roz uses the supernatural ability of mirrors also in the present times. She uses it to the communication between her real face, the face that is angry about Mitch, and her other face, the face that still loves Mitch and would do anything to bring him back to her.
“’Screw you, Mitch,’ she says to the mirror. If it weren’t for him she could relax, she could be middle-aged.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 86)
Yet, there is another special ability of mirrors that Roz uses and it is their ability to talk. She is able to speak to them and they influence her actions in notable way.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most beautiful of us all? Depends, says the mirror. Beauty is only skin deep. Right you are, says Roz, I’ll take some away. Now answer my question. I think you’re really terrific person, says the mirror. You’re warm and generous. You should have no difficulty at all finding some other man. I don’t want some other man, says Roz, trying not to cry. I want Mitch. Sorry, says the mirror. Can’t be done. It always ends like that.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 347)
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, Who is the evilest of us all? Take off a few pounds, cookie, and maybe I can do something for you.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 472)
However, the three main protagonists are not the only characters that use mirrors. We can see that also Charis’ mother used them to trick Charis. I think that her mirror ‘worked’ in the same way as the one of Roz. She used it to swap between her two faces. The one that loves her daughter Charis and the one, the real one, that does not.
“She checked her lipstick in the mirror of her compact, then smiled at Karen to see how she was taking it.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 275)
Men characters are not out of the mirror game, especially the one of Mitch. He used mirrors when she was preparing for those ‘things’ as Roz used to call them.
“He stands up straighter, pulls in his stomach more; she catches him glaring at himself, at his profile, in hall mirrors, in store windows, his eyes narrowing as if for a leonine pounce.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 356)
And finally, the main protagonist of the book Zenia uses supernatural abilities of mirrors as well.
“As with any magician, you saw what she wanted you to see; or else you saw what you yourself wanted to see. She did it with mirrors. The mirror was whoever was watching, but there was nothing behind the two-dimensional image but a thin layer of mercury.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 553)
We can say that the whole book is a kind of mirror game. On the one hand, everyone uses them and on the other hand, they affect everyone.
3.4 OTHER DARK MOTIFS
There is no doubt that the motive of otherness is the main one in The Robber Bride. However, there are also some minor Gothic motifs that make the dark and mysterious atmosphere even darker and more mysterious.
Majority of the mentioned motifs are closely connected with Charis. She is also considered to be unearthly woman. Her childhood was fairly influenced by her slimy uncle Vern who abused her since she was nine and Atwood describes his nasty deeds in a very detailed way. We as readers know the very detail of Charis’ assaults. This unpleasant experience forces her to ‘create’ her other self, but it still persists in her deep unconsciousness. At that time, Charis spent some time with her spiritually-based grandmother who had the main influence on Charis’ later supernatural abilities. For instance, her grandmother considered the Bible to be very special and they used to read from it one prophecy every Sunday. This part of Charis’ childhood influenced her in a sensible way. In her adulthood, Charis possess some supernatural abilities and she also performs some unnatural acts. She often uses pendulum to foretell the actions that awaits her.
“Charis takes her quartz pendulum out of its blue Chinese silk drawstring bag – silk conserves the vibrations, says Shanita – and holds it over her head, watching it in the mirror.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 52)
Yet more she has various visions, visions about falling woman and she also has a vision when Zenia dies.
However there are some dark motifs not connected to Charis’ supernatural abilities but rather indirectly to her person. One of them is unexplained death of her chickens. It is rather violent act accompanied by streams of blood yet we do not know what really happened and who the killer is. Another interesting act is the moment when Zenia offers Charis to read her cards. One could think that her prophecy is just a made-up fiction but the more surprising is our amazement when we find out she was right. Does she possess some supernatural ability too? Nobody knows.
However, Charis and her deeds are not the only ones connected to the dark motifs. Roz’s behavior is also marked with some details that scare us and their origin can be found in one Gothic novel written many years earlier than The Robber Bride. Its name is Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus which was written by Mary Shelley nearly two hundred years earlier. Roz considers Zenia to be a monster notably similar to the one from the Frankenstein.
“My own monster, thinks Roz. I thought I could control her. Then she broke loose.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 113)
Yet there is one more example of Roz’s comparison of Zenia to the monster described by Mary Shelley.
“Still, Roz can picture the stitch marks, the needle tracks, where the Frankenstein doctors have been at work. She knows the fault lines where Zenia might crack open.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 113)
This fact just strengthens my suspicion that Roz considers Zenia to be just a monster, just ‘an up-market slut’ made of silicone.
In the end, The Robber Bride is considered to be modern Gothic novel so there is no doubt that even common readers can find lots of dark motifs in it. However, The Robber Bride is not made just of Gothic elements. It is an excellent junction of Gothic and postmodern features.
4 POSTMODERNISM IN THE ROBBER BRIDE
Margaret Atwood is a master of enthralling stories and is world famous for her capability to write in a witty and catching way while still pointing out various problems of society. This special ability of Margaret Atwood is visible also in The Robber Bride.
Each and every literary work is in its basis unique. To say what is and what is not postmodern in The Robber Bride is not such easy task just for one reason. Gothic and postmodern features are closely connected and create the uniqueness of the book. If we skip the unique and enthralling story of the book and focus our attention on the form and technique of writing of the book, we may find some typical postmodern features.
The Robber Bride is unique in the style of author and the form as well. We have already mentioned that the book begins with the chapter called Onset and ends with Outcome, both of them are some kind of author’s speculation expressed by the eyes of Tony Fremont. The heart of the book consists of the chapters where the three main protagonists describe their childhood experience and their encounter with Zenia. This chapters are some kind of flashbacks of the three women, they deal about their past. The on-stage narration of the book is mainly put into two chapters called the Toxique, one at the beginning and the other at the end of the book. Yet it takes only about hundred pages. However, the past and present events are sometimes mixed and overlap each other. This feature may be difficult for an inexperienced reader and he or she may lose the coherency and get completely lost in the web of different narratives and periods of the story.
The form of the book reminds me some kind of author’s game with the reader as the reader is given choice also with the interpretation of the book but also the way of reading it. If one tries to go deeper in the interpretation and analyzing of the book, he or she may choose the order in which he or she will read the book. The reader may begin with chapters taking place in the presence and then read the flashbacks of the three women. Yet he may also choose the opposite way of reading and to read the past events first, then carry on with the present actions taking place mainly in the Toxique restaurant and the Arnold Garden Hotel. However, one may also try to read the book in a random way as all the chapters can be considered as separate parts of the book. Even though there are certain details that fit together and make sense only when the book is read step by step, the reader can understand the book without them as well.
This special feature can be considered as hypertextuality of the book. The term hypertextuality comes from the term hypertext which is broadly known on the internet.
“Hypertext , a term coined by Theodor H. Nelson in the 1960s, refers also to a form of electronic text, a radically new information technology, and a mode of publication. "By 'hypertext,' " Nelson explains, ‘I mean non-sequential writing -- text that branches and allows choices to the reader, best read at an interactive screen. As popularly conceived, this is a series of text chunks connected by links which offer the reader different pathways’”
(Cyberartsweb, 2006 )
If we omit the interactive screens and apply this definition to literature and to The Robber Bride, it fully fits the implication that it can be read in optional order. The form and also the story of The Robber Bride are connected by multiple links which offer the reader to choose his or her own way and handling when reading the book. This feature provides more contextual and individualized text for every reader.
One of the common features of postmodernism is the frequent use of intertextuality. What does this term describe? What is the basic principle of its use?
“Intertextuality is a relationship between two or more texts that quote from one another, allude to one another, or otherwise connect. In the work of Julia Kristeva (who coined the term in 1966), intertextuality suggests the interdependence of texts, the continual deferment of meaning through and between texts.” (Wikipedia, 2006)
So the very basic principle of intertextuality is the use of various texts or at least allusions to them. Any postmodern work can contain more than just one allusion, this is what makes them so lively. Yet there is another term with similar meaning as intertextuality, it is pastiche.
Considering The Robber Bride to be a postmodern Gothic novel, one could try to find certain intertexts in it. According to Hilde Staels, Margaret Atwood does not so much allude to specific intertexts; she mainly uses thematic and formal elements from different genres such as the Gothic novel, fairy – and folk tales and ancient myths. However, The Robber Bride alludes to some specific texts, especially fairy-tale texts.
The title of The Robber Bride comes from a fairy tale written by the Grimm brothers. Its original name is ‘Der Räuberbräutigam’ which is translated as The Robber Bridegroom. It is a short story about mysterious man who is interested in a beautiful daughter of a miller. He asks her to come and visit him in his mansion which is situated deep in the dark forest. She finds out that he is not a rich stranger what he supposed to be but a murderer who devours young girls. She manages to escape and at the end, her mysterious follower is caught and executed.
The Robber Bride is very similar with The Robber Bridegromm in few details. The first one is the name but it is negligible. According to Hilde Staels the more obvious and also fundamental similarity is the tale’s technique, technique of a female victim narrating her story of victimization in retrospect. The themes of cannibalism and amputation in The Robber Bridegroom occur in The Robber Bride in the theme of Zenia as man-eater. The allusion to The Robber Bridegroom directly appears in the novel when Tony reads a tale with the same name for Roz’s daughters Paula and Erin. At the time, they decided that all the characters in every tale had to be female. So the bridegroom changed to bride and her victims were not men as one would expect but women. This is where Roz likens Zenia to The Robber Bride.
“The Robber Bride, thinks Roz. Well, why not? Let the grooms take it in the neck for once. The Robber Bride, lurking in her mansion in the dark forest, preying upon the innocent, enticing youths to their doom in her evil cauldron. Like Zenia.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 352)
According to Hilde Staels a less obvious, though possible intertext is “Fitcher’s Bird”, another Grimm’s fairy tale. It is a story about three sisters, one of which is endowed with supernatural strength and capable of healing her two sisters. She also claims that there is a certain indication of recurring image of an egg that contains life force when Charis feels warmth issuing off an egg while with her grandmother.
Another possible yet minor intertext is the one of Frankenstein. This allusion is noticeable when Roz describes Zenia as her own monster and also when she talks about Zenia’s synthetical breasts and her whole body as a result of the Frankenstein doctors.
However, we can find various intertexts that do not allude to specific text. Further on, Hilde Staels claims, that occasional use of the phrase “Once upon a time” and the presence of the bad mother archetype, which the three protagonists project on their mother are just few examples, originating from fairy tales, which occur in The Robber Bride.
One of the most significant features of Canadian literature and Canada at all, is the presence of multiculturalism. Carol Ann Howells in her essay The Robber Bride; or, Who Is a True Canadian suggests, that the immigration policies in Canada fairly changed after the Second World War and Canada has shifted its ideological discourse of nation beyond the traditional Anglophone/francophone pattern. This revised discourse of nation is codified in the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which recognizes that ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural diversity are a “fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity.”
The influence of multiculturalism on The Robber Bride is remarkable. It is closely connected with the otherness and the feeling of ‘not-belonging’ of the three main protagonists. We know that the three women were born in Canada during or after the Second World War. They were war children and this fact influenced their future integration into society. Yet, there is one even more important detail that made their integration even more problematic. The fact that their parents were immigrants.
Tony Fremont, the first victim of post-war situation in Canada, was mainly influenced by the fact that her mother was born in England. In London she met Griff, Tony’s father, and they moved to Canada where they married with haste. However, we know that Tony was an unwanted child and she was not ‘good enough’ for neither of her parents.
“So Tony is a foreigner, to her own mother; and to her father also, because, although she talks the same way he does, she is – and he has made this clear – not a boy. Like a foreigner, she listens carefully, interpreting. Like a foreigner she keeps an eye out for sudden hostile gestures. Like a foreigner she makes mistakes.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 171)
Yet she could never fully integrate into the society for two reasons. First reason was the dissatisfaction of her parents. However there was one reason that made her integration even more complicated. It was her growth. We know that she was rather low and people used to call her tiny Tony. Her tiny growth affected her in a way and strengthened her feeling of not-belonging anywhere.
“They tell her she is almost Chinese. Only almost, though. Almost is what she has always felt; approximate. Zenia has never been almost, even at her most fraudulent.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 42)
Charis, the New Age Woman, is another victim of post-war period in Canada. We hardly know any relevant facts about her father, we just know that he was killed in war and Charis never met him. Again, her mother represents bad mother archetype, she was psychic and abused Charis from the early childhood. Although the main reason for Charis’ duality is the early abuse from her mother and then the sexual abuse from her viscid uncle, her uncertain roots also contributed the feeling of being in-between.
“She herself is Scotch, partly, so Karen is part Scotch too. Part Scotch, part English, part Mennonite, and part of whatever her father was.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 296)
Further more, while working in the shop called Radiance, she experiences various negative impressions with her colleague Shanita. She is also an immigrant yet it is visible at the first sight that she is not Canadian. People often use to ask her about her origin what makes her feel uncomfortable.
“’I think they mean, where were your parents from,’ says Charis, because that’s what Canadians usually mean when they ask that question. ‘That’s not what they mean,’ says Shanita. ‘What they mean is, when am I leaving.’” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 66)
Charis was the one who was least affected by the influence of multiculturalism and post-war situation in Canada. Her roots did not affect her identity in such a sensible way as they affected the third main protagonist, Roz.
Roz, the child of Jewish soldier and Christian lady, is the one most affected by the influence and acceptance of multiculturalism in post-war Canada. When she was young, she did not know her father as he was in war. At the moment he returned, she knew that he is immigrant. His accent was different. At the time she attended Catholic school, she met many schoolmates that used to make fun of another DPs. That what other used to call her sometimes, a displaced person.
“Still, even if Roz wasn’t a DP, there was something. There was something about her that set her apart, an invisible barrier, faint and hardly there, like the surface of water, but strong nevertheless.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 390)
She was not a classical example of a displaced person as she could speak English fluently. When other used to call her that way, it was just a sort of joke yet she was not really sure of it. There was still something that made her feel uncertain in the society she lived in.
“She finds herself in a foreign country. She’s an immigrant, a displaced person. Her father’s ship has come in, but she’s just off the boat.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 413)
She knew that she does not fit into the society as the others did yet she tried. The only way she could pretend to fit in was to be somebody else. She began to act as funny and noisy giggler and it worked. However, even though this trick seemed to work perfectly, there was still something which accompanied her all life. It was the permanent feeling of not-belonging anywhere. It was quite strong and not even the use of various masks could help her to dispose this feeling. And finally, as she grows older and her identity should be finally stabilized, she undergoes another problem of belonging. It is the conflict between belonging into the age of youth or the age of adulthood.
“She must seem so archaic to them. So obsolete, so foreign. She spent the first half of her life feeling less and less like an immigrant, and now she’s spending the second half feeling more and more like one. A refugee from the land of middle age, stranded in the country of the young.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 90)
At the end, Roz finds out that her masks probably were not as successful as she expected them to be as their own children managed to uncover them. All her life she tries to hide her inner conflict of not being true Canadian.
The last but not least important character that deserves to be analyzed from the point of view of multiculturalism is Zenia. However the case of Zenia is completely different from those of Tony, Charis and Roz. It is caused mainly with the absence of Zenia’s point of view. We can base or analysis just on the experience of the three women and on few Zenia’s dialogues.
The first and the major problem is that we do not know the true origin of Zenia. According to what we know from her stories with which she tricked the three women, she may be White Russian, Romanian Gypsy and German Jew as well. We can only guess which of these possibilities is correct if any. She may be one of the mentioned origins yet she may also lie about her origin as she lies about everything. Further more, we do not know if she undergoes similar identity problems and feelings of not-belonging anywhere as Tony, Charis and Roz.
The presence of strong feeling of being in-between is evident with the three main protagonists. All their life they try to be somebody else, the try to fit into the Canadian society yet they fail. They are never considered to be true Canadians. Finally, the only one who is considered to be Canadian is their rival Zenia.
“He knew Zenia was dead though, he’d seen it in the paper: a small oblong, hidden in the middle. Canadian Killed in Terrorist Blast.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 15)
Zenia had three different passports and yet there is no evidence about her birth. The fact that only Zenia manages to be considered as true Canadian is probably Atwood’s intention. Katarína Labudová in her article Who is a Canadian suggest that the existence of Zenia is a myth just as Canadian nationality. Margaret Atwood probably tried to point out the fact that even though the Act of Multiculturalism describes the Canadian identity as ethnic, racial, religious, and culturally diversified, in fact, there is nothing like that. People will always consider immigrants to be different.
5. ZENIA’S GAME
Definitely, the most important and debated figure of The Robber Bride is Zenia. She is the woman who causes pain and despair of Tony, Charis and Roz. What are her deadly weapons, sophisticated tactics, life stories and mature plans which help her to get what she wants? How is it possible that she can fool everybody even if they are prepared for her? It is not easy to say but if we would try, we have to start where Zenia herself starts. And it is in 1960s when she appears on the stage.
5.1 ZENIA FOOLING ABOUT WITH TONY
The occurrence of Zenia begins in 1960s, in the time when she meets Tony at McClung Hall. We can say that they meet accidentally as Tony who likes her schoolmate West is invited by him to the party where she encounters Zenia. At the time, Zenia is dating West what Tony is not informed about. Tony’s physical look is not very attractive as she is rather short and when beautiful girlfriend of West, Zenia, shows interest in her, she cannot resist. Tony’s childhood was not very nice and it influenced her in a great way. While studying at McClung Hall, she did not have any friends. She was rather segregative and the only thing she was focused on was school.
“She studied a lot, she ate and slept, she rinsed out her stockings in the McClung Hall second-floor washbasin and twisted them up in a towel and hung them neatly above the clanking radiator in her room, on a coat-hanger suspended from the curtain rod by a string.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 135)
Her life was not adventurous at all even though she would like it to be. When Zenia shows, that she is interested in her and her biggest hobby which is war, Tony feels that her long-missing part, which is social interaction, begins to strike. Tony, who was closed in front of the whole world and her secrets were well-guarded in the deepness of her soul, opens in front of Zenia as a mellow fruit. In a short time, she divulges her deepest secret about the relation to her mother and about her unpleasant childhood to her. Zenia is much centered and listens to Tony’s every single word. They became very good friends, one could say best friends, and they spend all their free time together. They chat about things Tony never used to and Zenia knows that Tony likes it. She helps her to change her long-stable style of dressing and lets Tony feel important and unique.
Zenia is excellent in impressing people. She tells Tony a story about her childhood and the story is really sad. She says that she used to be sold for money by her mother. She was rented to deviant men since she was six. Zenia claims, that her mother died on T.B. and that she never knew her real father. We do not know if this story is real or not but it impresses Tony in a great way and she considers her childhood to be just a minor footnote when compared to Zenia’s terrible childhood.
Zenia in her twenties looks as every young girl wants to look like. She is really pretty, her tight waist and superhuman figure together with brilliant and sharp brain allows her to get anything she wants and to be respectful. And Tony likes it that person like Zenia is her best friend. But there is one thing the she does not like about her. The fact that Zenia is always short of money and Tony is the one who always lends her. It would be better to say gives her because Zenia never returns it. Is she blind that she cannot see that Zenia only misuses her? Obviously yes because Tony considers her to be her best friend and she feels badly that she has no problem with money while Zenia has. And Zenia misuses her naivety on and on and asks her for more and more money.
One day Zenia disappears like a puff of smoke. She takes thousand dollars, West’s guitar and anything what is worth at least a penny and leaves only short letter for West which is, according to Tony, just a piece of scrap. Why does she leave this letter? It is clear that she does not like West any more. Is it some kind of return-ticket in case that something goes wrong? Does she intend to come back?
After some time, Tony and West get married. Everything seems to be fine until one evening when Zenia appears at their door. She returns with another, according to me, made up story and acts as if nothing would have happened, as if she had no memory. Not long after her comeback, she manages to lure West away from Tony. And after a year, when she gets tired of him, she leaves him. Better said, she kicks him out as scabby dog and he returns to Tony.
This is how Zenia managed to fool and rob Tony. Not only of money but also of trust Tony used to have in West. Even though he came back to her, she never believed that he could love her as she loved him. And how did Zenia manage to fool her? How did she find the chink in her armour? We know that Tony was not trustful just to anybody but despite of this fact, Zenia managed to get close to her. She pretended to be interested in matters that nobody else was and this is what made Tony feel special. Zenia showed her what Tony desired and made her feel important. She was Tony’s other self, she was what Tony always wanted to be. To be a queen of the barbarians, to be strong.
5.2 ZENIA’S TRAP FOR CHARIS
The second loot of Zenia’s mysterious game is Charis. Their history begins in early 1970s as they meet up on one yoga classes which Charis regularly teaches on Wednesdays. At least it looks like an accident. Zenia is now in her thirties but looks terrible. This is how Atwood describes her.
“This woman is tall, and thin as a razor, so thin Charis can see her ribcage right through the leotard, each rib in high relief as if carved, with a line of darkness beneath it…” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 257)
There is no doubt that Zenia is indisposed. She has prepared a thrilling and at the same time sorrowful story about her fate. She asks Charis to help her with her problem. The problem is cancer. Zenia claims that she beat the cancer once before and that she cannot have babies since and that the deceitful disease returned. At the time, she lives with West, at least this is what she claims, and that West is really rude and cannot manage the condition Zenia is in. We know that Zenia is lying but Charis does not. Anyway, would it change anything if she would know it? Would she resist Zenia’s treacherous deeds?
After Zenia tells her touching story, she leaves Charis’ yoga class in even worse mental condition as when she came. At least this is how it looks and Charis feels guilty about it. She would like to help Zenia at any costs even though she hardly knows her.
“Charis wants to jump up and run after her and bring her back. The desire is so strong in her it’s like a fist on her neck. She wants to sit Zenia down again in her chair and put both hands on her, and summon up all her energy, the energy of the light, and heal her, right on the spot.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 262)
How is it possible that Zenia needs only few minutes to impress people in such a way that they would do anything for her? She must have some kind of sixth sense or supernatural instinct which tells her what certain people need to hear to help her.
One evening, shortly after their encounter, Zenia crops up at Charis’ doors and looks awfully.
“’He threw me out,’ she whispers. ‘I don’t want to disturb you…I just didn’t know where else to go.’” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 263)
Charis lets her in and in my opinion this the moment where she does fatal error. She starts to take care of Zenia, she prepares healing potions and vegetable salads for her. At the beginning, Zenia is very thankful for everything Charis makes for her and shows enthusiasm. Charis is really satisfied that she goes well in curing Zenia’s disease and this is what Zenia wants. She is great at making people feel important and successful. And her weapons are even stronger than those of Charis’ husband Billy. Charis is loot and Billy knows it and tries to help her. But Zenia’s influence is ultimate. After some time, Zenia starts to behave a little bit less fairly and is, as one could say, derisive. She starts to joke about Charis’ curing salads and potions, she is curious about Billy and suspects him of deceiving Charis and tries to make Charis feel uncertain. I think this is the crucial point in their relation. Was there something that Charis could do and stave off oncoming disaster? I think there was and if Charis could get rid of Zenia now as Billy asked her to, she could still save her relation with him. But she did not and she got more and more entangled in Zenia’s web of lies. Zenia tells her story about her difficult childhood and terror she suffered which makes Charis feel even more responsible for Zenia’s life.
At the time Charis gets pregnant, Zenia seems to be finally cured. And when she finds out that Charis is gravid, she shows herself in a way that nobody, not even Charis, would expect.
“’Wait’ll he finds out,’ says Zenia grimly. ‘This house is going to be one whole hell of a lot smaller with a screaming brat in it. You could’ve waited till I was dead.’” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 328)
Zenia is very angry about Charis being pregnant. In my opinion this is the moment where she is already decided to leave Charis. She just had enough fun of making an ass of Charis and two days after Billy gets informed about Charis being pregnant, she lures him away.
How did she manage to rob another woman of her partner, to take the most precious thing she had? How is it possible that Charis could not resist her tricks? Could she save her sweetheart if she would trust him a little bit more? Yes, she could but she did not trust him enough.
5.3 ROZ AS LOOT OF ZENIA’S SLEIGHT
Roz, the joker, is the last victim of Zenia’s game. The story of Roz and Zenia begins on a lovely day in May, in 1983 as Atwood informs us. The fact is that they know each other since university but at the time they did not have much in common. On this day, Roz is having a lunch with her husband Mitch at a restaurant called Nereids, a kind of restaurant she would never visit unless she had to. The restaurant is too immoral even to her style. And this is the place where she meets Zenia as she is working there as a waitress.
“Roz looks hard at her and knows she’s seen her before. Much earlier, in another life. ’Zenia!’ she exclaims, before she can help it.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 377)
Zenia explains that she doing a research about sexual harassment in the work place and that she is working as a journalist. This is also the moment when Zenia breaks through Roz’s defences. She is able to do it with only one simple sentence.
“’You know, Roz,’ she says, ‘I’ve always wanted to tell you this. But I never could before. Your father,’ says Zenia. ‘Oh dear,’ says Roz. ‘He saved my life,’ says Zenia. ‘During the war.’”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 379)
Roz always wanted to know the truth about her father and now Zenia is here with evidence that her father was not what she used to think, he was not scoundrel. How can Zenia know that Roz desires to find the truth about her father? Is it again some kind of sixth sense or is it just her finesse that allows her to impress people in a way they cannot resist? I think it is little bit of both.
Roz is keen on the truth about her father and invites Zenia for a drink. Even though she gives a phone call to her friend Tony about the news that she met Zenia, Tony’s advices about not letting her in are weaker than Roz’s vanity. She lets Zenia in her house. This is where Roz seals the doom. Zenia prepared another thrilling story about her childhood and about Roz’s brave father who saved her aunt’s life. This story is really exciting and sad at the same time but it makes Roz feel grateful to Zenia.
“Roz is practically in tears. She remembers her father, the old rascal; she’s glad to know that his dubious talents were of service, because he’s still her favourite parent and she welcomes the chance to think well of him.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 435)
Zenia, as usually, is well prepared for any possible circumstances. When Roz asks her about atrocities she committed to Tony and Charis, she is not lying. She tells the truth and this is what convinces Roz that Zenia has changed.
Zenia gets high position in Roz’s company and they become “good friends”, at least this is how it looks like. She manages to double the circulation of Roz’s magazine. Everything goes fine but Zenia begins to change the shape of the magazine step by step and this is what Roz does not like. It does not take long time and the magazine is completely changed. Not only she changes the magazine, she also manages to lure Roz’s husband away.
How did she do that? Roz did know about her treacherous tricks but this knowledge did not help her. Maybe it happened because this time it was really easy job for Zenia to lure away woman-chaser what Mitch certainly was. But maybe it was only Roz’s fault that her husband is gone. Nevertheless, Roz tries to go on even without her husband.
After three months, when Zenia has enough of Mitch presence, she simply disappears. She disappears as she did many times before. And when Mitch does not want to accept the defeat and degradation and tries to trace her, she trumps up her own death just to confuse and get rid of him.
Roz loses not only the money Zenia took with her, she loses the person she loved despite of his defects. She loses her husband forever.
5.4 ZENIA’S REBIRTH
Zenia is killed in Lebanon, blown up by a bomb. This is what Atwood informs us about and what the three women believe. But five years on, Zenia returns without any indication and takes everybody by surprise.
“Tony feels a chill. The door must have opened. She looks up, and into the mirror. Zenia is standing here, behind her, in the smoke, in the glass, in this room. Not someone who looks like Zenia: Zenia herself. ” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 37)
Zenia enters the place where the tree women regularly meet for a lunch but she does not greet them, she acts as they would be not there. Zenia is still beautiful and they admire her. This is what makes them even more terrified and she knows it. What are her intentions and reasons now? Why did she come back? Does she intend to harm them even more than she did in the past? We as readers do not know.
This time, Zenia’s behavior is slightly different from the way she behaved in the past. Now, she does not search for Tony, Charis and Roz, they search for her. She stays in her den, as we could call her hotel-room, and waits until they track her. Would not she try to find them first if she would intend to harm them? Or does she use her sixth sense and knows that they will find her in a short time?
All the three heroines, as we could call them, are preparing for the final encounter with Zenia. They know that she is capable of breaking through their defenses but this time, Zenia will suffer a great defeat and regret her deeds. At least, this is what they believe. They want revenge and satisfaction which she owns them.
Tony is the first one who manages to track Zenia in her hotel-room and is ready to square accounts with her. She prepares the concept of operations very carefully. She carries her father’s Luger and cordless drill with her and she is prepared to use them against Zenia. She wants her dead. There is nothing that could surprise her, at least this is what she thinks. But she is the one who is ambushed. Zenia is conscious of her advantage and manages to inflict a chink in Tony’s sophisticated tactics. She makes her feel uncertain and that gives her extensive advantage. Zenia tricks her with another story and there is only one reason why she returned. She needs just some place to stay. At least this is what she tells Tony. At the moment when Tony refuses to help her, Zenia transforms into offensive harpy.
“’Well, help yourself to some righteous indignation, you little snot. You always were the most awful two-faced hypocrite, Tony. A smug dog-in-the-manger prune-faced little shit with megalomaniac pretensions.’” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 497)
Not only she swears and insults her, she also starts to gouge on her but Tony finally resists and leaves the room.
Charis is the next heroine who is preparing for the final encounter with Zenia. She manages to track her with help of Roz’s son Larry. While preparing for the “last battle”, she fantasizes about the process of appointment. She imagines herself as strong and unbeatable and is confident about herself. Charis meets Zenia in her hotel-room the same day but about three hours later than Tony. Zenia is waiting for her in an armchair but she surprises her with not being offensive as Charis expected her to be. This time, Zenia is calm. Charis observes that Zenia is damaged. Not physically but Charis can see she is not all right. Zenia tells her another, in my opinion, made up story and asks her to help. Help her to cure deadly disease by which she suffers. She is asking only for quiet place in Charis’ house on Island. But when Charis asks her to explain the deeds she did in the past, Zenia explodes with anger. Zenia knows that she failed and there is nothing more she could do about it, except mortifying Charis with lies and swear-words.
“’From what Billy said, you wouldn’t know fun if you fell over it. He was so hungry for a little good sex that he jumped me almost as soon as I walked into that pathetic shack of yours. What do you think we were doing when you were over on the mainland teaching that tedious yoga class? Or when you were downstairs cooking our breakfast, or outside feeding those brain-damaged hens?’”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 513)
She strikes and attacks everything what means or used to mean for Charis. Charis is really down about it and would like to kill Zenia. To do anything that could make her feel better. But she just leaves.
Roz is the last woman who has some unfinished business with Zenia. When she hears that Zenia was kissing Roz’s son Larry, she gets furious and rush into Zenia’s room. Roz’s is the only one who comes directly to the point. She knows what she wants and there is nothing that could stop her. But Zenia is somehow prepared for this sudden raid. She offers her a drink and a cigarette and explains the situation why she is back. She makes up another interesting story but this time Roz resists. Zenia feels defeated and starts to attack as she did with Tony and Charis.
“’Women like you make me sick,’ says Zenia angrily. ‘You’ve always owned things. But you didn’t own him, you know. He wasn’t your God-given property! You think you had rights in him? Nobody has any rights except what they can get!’” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 528)
When it does not work, she starts to blackmail Roz. She asks her for a lot of money and in turn she promises her to leave the city once and for all and to leave Roz’s son alone. After she refuses to pay her off, Zenia tells her the truth about the relation with Roz’s son Larry, at least she says that it is true. Roz is in the balance then, she promises to come the next day and to give her the money she asks for. Then she leaves.
5.5 ZENIA – THE ULTIMATE PLAYER
The same day as the three heroines face off Zenia, they meet in Toxique to share their experiences with Zenia. As they share their stories, Chris has some kind of vision and she knows Zenia is dead.
“’I saw it in the candle,’ says Charis. ‘I saw her falling. She was falling, into water. I saw it! She’s dead.’ Charis begins to cry.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 534)
They go to the hotel to find out whether it was just an illusion or not. But they know that Charis has some kind of supernatural sense and they understand that she may be right. And she is. They find Zenia dead in the fountain. She must have fallen off the balcony or someone could even push her. This is how the story of Zenia ends. We never find out what really happened to her. There are too many possibilities.
In the first place, if we consider her death to be a murder, everybody is a potential killer. Charis is the suspect number one as she used to have visions about falling body long time before Zenia died. She has the vision while they share their experience in Toxique and she feels that Karen killed Zenia. Maybe it was not a vision. Maybe it was some kind of flashback of the act she performed in the afternoon and that she really killed Zenia. She would have enough time to do it after Roz left Zenia’s hotel-room. Roz could do it as well. She was the most straightforward and also angry. She was the last one who visited Zenia in her room and she would have enough time to blind a trail. Tiny Tony is not off the suspect list. She was the one who wanted to kill Zenia. She intended to use either her father’s gun or cordless drill. She would have enough time to kill Zenia and clean the mess. And we cannot forget about West, Larry and his friend Boyce. Anybody could have killed Zenia.
In the second place, one could think that her death could be also suicide. The police finds ninety per cent pure heroin in Zenia’s room and they find also needle on the balcony. Did Zenia overdose herself with heroin and jumped off the balcony? We know that she suffered cancer disease and she would die in less than half a year.
And in the third place, we cannot exclude the possibility that her death was an accident. She could have taken too much heroin and fall off the balcony just accidentally. But now it is not important whether it was an accident, a suicide or a murder. Zenia is dead once and for all.
More interesting is the speculation about who Zenia really was and what did she want. We do not know anything about her parents, about her childhood, we do not know anything for sure. On the one hand, we can consider Zenia’s acting as some kind of a game. She is the croupier, she has got all the playing cards and she passes them out. Tony, Charis, Roz and all the protagonists are players. They can quit playing anytime they want unless they get too involved into the game. But they like the tension, they desire to win and the croupier is always prepared to offer them what they desire. And good croupier has got cards for everyone. She gives to men what they want.
“What is her secret? How does she do it? Where does it come from, her undeniable power over men? How does she latch hold of them, break heir stride, trip them up, and then so easily turn them inside out? It must be something very simple and obvious. She tells them they’re unique, then reveals to them that they’re not. She opens her cloak with the secret pockets and shows them how the magic trick is worked, and that it is after all nothing more than a trick. Only by that time they refuse to see; they think the Water of Youth is real, even though she empties the bottle and fills it again from the tap, right before their very eyes. They want to believe.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 457)
She gives women what they desire. She prepares made up story for each of them and breaks their defences. She plays the game with them. They can quit but they are too greedy to quit. If they were not, nothing would have happened to them. Tony exactly describes it in the reflection about Zenia.
“Tony was the first one of them to befriend Zenia; or rather, Tony was the first one to let her in, because people like Zenia can never step through your doorway, can never enter and entangle themselves in your life, unless you invite them. There has to be a recognition, an offer of hospitality, a word of greeting. Tony has come to realize this, although she didn’t at the time.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 134-135)
You will not loose a game unless you start playing one. If a banker has no players, he makes no money and is useless. When Zenia returned five years after her putative death, she wanted to start playing another game. And when all the players refused to play, her life lost sense. She was not useful any more. And in my opinion, she committed suicide.
On the other hand, I cannot resist the feeling that Zenia is not real. That she is just some kind of spirit. She looks too perfect to me to be real. She knows everything about everybody. She knows that Tony’s weak spot is her history and her mother so she makes up a story about herself to fool her and to break her defences. She knows that Charis desires to take care of somebody so she pretends to be ill and let Charis ‘cure’ her. She knows that Roz is keen on style, fashion and her magazine so she pretends to be a journalist and sneaks in her company just to cause her damage. She lures Tony’s husband away for no reason, then about ten years later she pops up at Charis’ house and cause serious damages to her and yet another ten years later she strikes again and harms Roz. Why does she do it? She has no solid reason to harm them. And yet another matter that strengthens my suspicion about Zenia not being real. She puts in an appearance approximately every ten years to harm the three women. She hardly knows them so why would she manage to harm them? And after she manages to give them pain, she leaves. She leaves without any explanation or reason. She pops up and disappears as ghost. Even her name is not real as Tony finds out at the end of the novel. I do not buy it. She is just too artificial to me.
6. MALE CHARACTERS OF THE ROBBER BRIDE
The whole story of The Robber Bride is told through the eyes of the three women, Tony, Charis and Roz. Although male characters play a rather significant role in the story and are the source of disappointment, we will not find their feelings, ideas and memoirs in the book. On the one hand it is quite pity that there is no male opinion expressed in the book, on the other hand it probably was author’s intention to leave this side hidden and to leave the decision on the reader.
The lives of Tony, Charis and Roz were influenced by many men including their fathers, relatives and colleagues. These men definitely had some effect on their lives, but the most important roles played their husbands or partners. It is not easy to define the male characters as we can base our analysis only on dialogues and descriptions made by the women. Anyway, it is worth trying.
6.1 HEAVY-HANDED WEST
Tony is the only woman who managed to keep her husband until present times. How is it possible that Zenia failed to lure him away forever? What is so distinguished about West? What made him stay with Tony?
Tony and West met in 1960s while they both studied at McClung. West, at that time they met his name was Steward, used to sit beside Tony on Modern History classes. He used to borrow her notes and this is probably the moment that can be considered as the beginning of their relation. He was the only one Tony could talk to about her interest in war. Although neither of them was really talkative, they started to meet more regularly in pubs after the history lessons and talked about everything what was connected with war. This is the moment when Tony started to feel to him something more than just friendship. As West’s appearance was not quite common, it was really easy to fall in love to him. Especially it was easy for a person like Tony. West was really tall but not giant as he was quite skinny and loosely strung. He had shaggy blond hair and wore dark, tarnished clothing which was unusual for the time as most students wore jackets.
At this time West used to date Zenia but Tony did not know about it until she was invited to one party. West was really obsessed with Zenia and everybody could see it. Maybe it was just sex what kept him with Zenia, maybe not. But one thing is certain. West was really crazy about Zenia and found Tony only as a good friend.
“Hi Tony. How’s my little pal?” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 149)
After Zenia’s sudden evanescence West is completely broken. It is interesting to watch how one woman is able to change the man in such a way.
“West’s desolation is palpable. It envelops him like a cloud of midges, it marks him like a slashed wrist, which he holds out to Tony (mutely, without moving) to be bandaged.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 207)
West is in mourning, he thinks that it was all his fault that Zenia left, he still believes that Zenia will return to him, he will care for her and all will go on as before.
In this hard time, Tony is the only support he has. They walk around, they spend all the time together and this is the moment when they draw together. After some time they marry and buy a flat where they live together. At the time West looks to be finally cured from Zenia’s wounds and everything looks fine until Zenia suddenly occurs. West leaves his wife Tony with simple explanation that Zenia needs him. How can he make such a thing? The answer is really short but eloquent. He is still in love with Zenia and treats Tony just as a friend or in other words, as Zenia’s replacement.
“I admire you a lot. You’ll always be my best friend. But Zenia needs me.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 217)
Tony looses her love again and is not only disappointed and rough, she is also angry. She is angry about West and Zenia. After a year in seclusion, West returns back to Tony. He clamors Tony for letting him in. He is broken again and expects Tony to heal his wounds again without thinking of wrench he rendered to Tony. In this way he is really self-interested.
After thirty years, West and Tony are still together. They live in a big house, they have no children and they do not talk about Zenia at all. When Zenia appears, he starts to behave in a strange way. He notes down the present address of Zenia but does not tell Tony about it. Is he still in love with her? Is he going to leave Tony again with some absurd self-justification? It is hard to answer these questions. But when Tony finally asks him about Zenia and the reason why he left with Zenia thirty years ago, his answer is rather surprising.
“I don’t know. I can’t remember. Anyway, it was a long time ago. She’s dead now.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 488)
He had a phone call with her so he knows that Zenia is not dead. So what made him say that she is dead? This only certifies the suspicion that there is still something what attracts him to Zenia and maybe he feels ashamed to confess to Tony about it. But the fact is that we as readers will never find out because shortly after Zenia’s comeback, she dies. We can only dispute about West’s intentions and how would he behave if Zenia would not die.
“Maybe that´s what West found so irresistible about Zenia, Tony used to think: that she was raw, that she was raw sex, whereas Tony herself was only the cooked variety. Parboiled to get the dangerous wildness out, the strong flesh-blood flavours. Zenia was gin at midnight, Tony was eggs for breakfast, and in eggcups at that.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 487)
What was the real face of West? Has he always been in love with Zenia? Has Tony been just a worse alternative for him all the time? Maybe but one thing which also Tony noticed at the end is that West still felt something to Zenia. Was it love? It is possible but probably it was sex that made him act like an idiot in some way. In my opinion, Zenia was the one who gave him remarkable sex, Tony gave him only upcountry. So why is he still with Tony? It is simple. Zenia had fill of West and he was impertinent enough to come back to Tony.
6.2 REFUGEE BILLY
Youngster Billy is the next victim of Zenia’s treacherous web for sex-hungry fellows. What made him walk away with Zenia? Why did he leave his pregnant wife alone? Was he really just another caddish villain whose only intention was to misuse Charis?
Charis and Billy met in 1970s. In fact, Charis did not meet him in the real mean of the word, he was allotted to her. It was in time when war deserters from the United States used to flee to Canada. Billy was one of them, he was defector. He and another young defector stayed in Charis’ house for about a week and then the other guy left. Billy used to be shy and diffident at the beginning but after a few days he got on feet and they started to have sex and live together. Charis fell in love with him.
Billy was seven years younger than Charis, he was only twenty-three when they met. He was fair-haired and with his short yellow beard he really weighed on Charis. And he was really hungry for sex.
“That’s what Billy was like, at the time. He was always after her then. In the mornings, in the afternoons, at night, it made no difference. Maybe it was just a sort of nervousness, or boredom, because he didn’t have that much to fill up the time. “(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 245)
Their relation looked to be in harmony at the time. Billy spent all his time helping war deserters and Charis earned money by teaching yoga classes. Everything went all right until Zenia appeared. Billy disliked Zenia from the early beginning and he did not hide his straightforward opinion about her. He asked Charis to get rid of Zenia but she did not listened to him.
“What’s she doing here? Get her out of here. Just out. ”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 265)
Maybe he was hostile to Zenia just because he was afraid she could tell on him or disclose his well-guarded secret. Or maybe he could predict that Zenia could cause sudden termination of his relation to Charis. It took him rather long time until he started to behave more mannerly to Zenia but behind her back, he is even ruder than he was at first. This moment could be considered as breaking point in the behavior of Billy. What made him behave more mannerly in Zenia’s presence and be even ruder in her absence? Something must have changed his opinion. Was it Zenia and her female weapons or did he change his behavior just under the influence of time? Again we as readers are not told directly what happened and we can just guess what could have changed his behavior.
At the time, Charis gets pregnant and five months after conception she makes the decision to tell Billy and Zenia about the child. Charis makes the decision to tell Zenia first. She is rather shocked with Zenia’s reaction and is looking forward to tell her lover Billy. His response is even more surprising and unexpected than anybody would think of.
“’Oh shit,’ says Billy. He goes slack in her arms. ‘Oh Jesus Christ. When?’ ‘In August,’ says Charis, waiting for him to be glad. But he isn’t glad. Instead he’s treating this like a big catastrophe; like a death, not a birth. ‘Oh shit,’ he says again. ‘What’re we gonna do?’”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 328-329)
He is really shocked and obviously he is not happy at all about the “good news”. This is not how a father that is pleased with the oncoming born of his descendant should react. It is more than visible on his reaction that he is not only angry about the situation and the oncoming child but also frightened in some way. Moreover, the next day when he returns back late in the evening, he is totally drunk and his manners are even more surprising and mind-bending than the day before.
“’You are just so goddamn stupid,’ he says, in the time to the shaking. ‘You are just so goddamn dumb!’”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 330)
Not only he tells her of, he also slaps her across the face. What is even more bewildering is the situation when he tries to kick Charis into her stomach probably with the intention to kill the baby. After he fails to perform this contemptuous act he begins to cry and he taxes Charis with her lack of interest about his suspicion about Zenia not being ill. They go up to bed and fall asleep. The next day is probably the cruelest day of Charis’ life. It is the day when Billy disappears from her life once for all. Early in the morning she goes to feed the chickens but she finds them all dead. When she returns back into the house, Billy and Zenia are already gone. Gone with no explanation about what happened. Charis runs towards the ferry dock and spots Billy standing on it. He is not alone, he is with Zenia and two other man. But the strange matter is that he doesn’t wave to Charis although he spots her. This is how the presence of Charis’ lover Billy ends. He drives away with no explanation, leaving his pregnant wife alone.
Again, we as readers are not told directly what happened. We can just speculate about the reason why and circumstances under which Billy left Charis. There are at least two possible explanations.
First suggestion that also Charis suggests and considers is that Zenia could tell on Billy and those two guys standing next to him on the ferry are policemen and are taking him back to Canada. But I think this explanation is rather improbable. Firstly, it is hard to believe that the policemen would come and arrest Billy exactly at the moment Charis left the house to feed the chickens. According to the description in the book it was just a split second. It is highly unlikely. And secondly, Billy left just few hours after his attempt to kill his oncoming descendant and his indirect “confession” about sleeping with Zenia.
Second suggestion that also Charis thought about first but then rejected it is that Billy left with Zenia without restraint. This explanation looks more probable at least to me. Billy was fed up with the life he was forced to live and the vision of taking care for a child could lead him to such a decision. Also the act that he did not wave to Charis when leaving can be considered from both sides. Either he did not want the two men to know he had something in common with Charis or what is more probable he felt ashamed of his deed. Or even worse, that he was completely not interested in Charis any more.
Whether the first or the second explanation of Billy’s disappearance is the right one, it changes nothing about the fact that Charis lost her lover for ever. But why would a man that lives with his wife and everything looks fine suddenly leave without leaving at least a note? It is hard to suggest any account but the one that their relationship was similar to the one of Tony and West. It was not love what kept them together, at least not bilateral love. I think that Billy, who was seven years younger than Charis, took her just as a temporary solution for his hiding-place. And in his twenties, he was also too young to bind his life with taking care of a child so he chose the easiest and for him the most natural option. He left his partner with sex-offering villain Zenia.
6.3 WOMAN-CHASER MITCH
The last male protagonist, who is worth analyzing as long as we talk about three Zenia’s victims, is the handsome partner of Roz Mitch. He is a bit different from West and Billy in some way but on the other hand he is also rather similar with them in certain features. Mitch and Roz met in the late 1960s as Roz informs us. At the time, Roz was almost twenty-two and it is obvious than she was not very pretty, in fact she was a little bit fat. Although she had some sexual affairs, she did not have any serious relation. When handsome young lawyer Mitch appeared in her father’s company, she got completely crazy about him.
“The shoulders, the blue eyes, the bone structure – he looked like a movie mag starlet, male version, too god to be true.”
(Atwood, M., 1994, p. 369)
At the beginning she doubted that she could have something with such a handsome guy as Mitch certainly was but when he gave her a phone call shortly after they met, her knees started to shake with excitement. He invited her for a dinner and the same evening when they ended up in bed he asked her proposed her. It looked rather hastily but she agreed and after some dating they got married. Their honeymoon was lovely, Mitch acted as real gentleman and Roz believed that he was the right one. All the problems, which Roz used to call things started at the time Roz got pregnant. First time when Mitch tricked her with another woman was a complete disaster for her. But after some time she got used to it as it never lasted too long and Mitch always returned to her with sweet words that she is the only one he loves and that it will never ever happen again. And this is how they lived together for a long time. Mitch was girl-crazy and when he got tired of the doll-baby with which he deceived Roz, he started to leave traces everywhere just that Roz could find them and solve the things. He always returned and asked her for grace.
About twenty years later, in the year 1983, is the situation still the same. Mitch’s things are the same and Roz reacts the way she sorted his affairs at the beginning. But the year 1983 is also the year when Roz and Mitch meet Zenia. He is rather nonchalant at the beginning but it does not take a long time until he starts to get interested about her and it is evident that he considers Zenia to be completely different from the other Rozs’ girlfriends he knows.
“’Anyway, I wasn’t coming on to her. But I bet she’d like it if I did. She’s an adventuress, she has the look.’” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 440)
And there is no doubt that Mitch likes Zenia. Shortly after they meet, Roz employs Zenia in her company. Zenia with her well-turned ideas helps to raise the quality level of Rozs’ magazine and Zenia becomes popular. Probably this is the moment when Mitch starts to cheat on Roz with Zenia. Again we as readers are not directly when exactly and under what circumstances their affair begins. But one day Mitch is gone. He leaves with Zenia without any simple hint or explanation. And this time it is different from his previous things as he also leaves the house. He also takes his best bottles of wine, his pictures and his suits with him. On the other hand he does not take everything with him, he leaves some things behind. As if he would like to return one day. Does he expect Roz to forgive him his crazy deed?
Three months passes we are informed that Zenia is seeing another man while Mitch is out. The same day, when Roz returns home she finds Mitch sitting in his favourite armchair as if nothing had happened. But Mitch is totally wrecked and his voice sounds like a groaning sorrow. Zenia left with another man and he cannot stand it. But he is not sorry about what he did to Roz. He thinks that Zenia is in some kind of trouble and he still wants to find and help her. He cannot see that Zenia just misused him as anybody else. Either he is blinded with love or he is so devastated that he cannot see the truth. The second suggestion seems more likely to me. And when Roz tries to show him the truth, his answer is rather ridiculous to me.
“’You don’t understand.’” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 453)
That is all his reaction. Then he leaves again to find and help Zenia but as we are informed he fails to even find her. It is obvious that she is not interested in him any more and knows he understands. One day he turns up in Rozs’ company and asks her if he can return to her.
“’I want to come back,’ he tells her, gazing around the high, wide living room, the spacious domain that Roz has made, that was once his to share.” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 454)
But he just wants to come back, he does not want to come back to Roz. He just wants the safety he used to feel while living with Roz and it looks that he is begging for it. Or is he just calculative and does he speculate about the possibility to get back the fortune he used to share when he lived with Roz? I do not think so this time. I think he is too devastated to think about money at the moment. He awaits her to help him as she used to help him when his doll-babies began to tire him. But this time she will not help him. And when she refuses to let him come back, he leaves as if he were under the influence of drugs. This is the last time Roz sees him. Although he comes to see the children and tries to soften her heart, she is hell bent no to let him come back. Is he still trying to make Roz feel at fault and to let him return?
A month later, Zenia dies. Not really but nobody knows yet that she just faked her death. From this time, there is no sign of Mitch’s presence as he takes no further actions in trying to persuade Roz about his innocence. Another month later, they find him dead. The official report says that he died accidentally by slipping of his boat and sinking down. His death is considered to be an accident because he had his lifejacket on at the time he died. But was it really just an accident? Roz doubts about it and me too. We know from the book that he was skilled enough to handle the ship and it is hard to believe that he would risk his life under such a bad weather as it was on the day he died for no reason. I think that he contrived things to look so either because he loved his children and he did not want to leave a bad package for them or because he felt vanquished and did not want to look as a complete looser.
At the beginning, when I declared that Mitch is different from West and Billy in some way, I was thinking about his relation to his wife. West and Billy used to live with their partners in, we can say, harmony until Zenia appeared and lured them away. But Mitch cheated on his wife from the very early beginning. I think that there was only one reason why he married Roz. The reason was her money. Although, at the beginning it looked that he loves her, in my opinion it was just a show to strengthen her confidence about her decision to marry him. His poor relation to his children, his affairs with other women and his lassitude towards Roz after affair with Zenia only strengthens my suspicion about his caginess.
The Robber Bride also contains certain features of war novel even though they are inverted. While in a real war men are the villains who commit brutal war crimes as assaults and murders, in The Robber Bride it is vice-versa. Zenia is the one who inflicts damage, women are the victims and men are the booty. According to Atwood’s interpretation, male characters in The Robber Bride are considered to by just and only the loot. They carry no deeper meaning and they seem marginal.
West is the only one who stays till the present time. What is so distinctive about him that makes him the only male surrender? Is it the fact that he dated Zenia before he met Tony and that he was prepared for her female weapons? And what about Billy? He did not like Zenia at all but again he left his pregnant wife alone and walked away with Zenia. And Mitch’s case is one big maze again. Why did he commit suicide? Did he have no other option? What made them all leave with Zenia?
To answer these and similar questions is a rather difficult task because, as mentioned at the beginning, we as readers can only speculate about them. We could only offer our personal interpretation.
As we know from the book, West is rather tender and he needs to be cared for by somebody. He leaves with Zenia because he is still “in love” with her and considers his wife Tony just as a friend. And when he starts to tire Zenia, she gets rid of him and he returns back to Tony probably with idea that anything is better than nothing. Billy likes his wife although we do not know if it is only the sex which makes him stay with her or is it real love. But probably it was just the sex and the security that made him stay with her. And when he gets frightened about the oncoming child he leaves with Zenia. We do not know what happened to him but I agree with the explanation which Zenia gives us at the end of the story. The woman-chaser Mitch deserves special attention. He cheats on his wife from the early beginning and is accustomed to the fact that he is the one who chooses his victims. He is not interested in them any more after he throws them off. And when something similar happens to him, he is ruined, he cannot stand his defeat and he commits suicide. All the men left their wives out of their choice. I am not sure whether they loved their wives at least a little bit or they took them completely just as possession.
But there is one thing I am sure about. Margaret Atwood described the male characters of The Robber Bride and the way they behave willfully and knowingly. I suggest that there was only one reason why the three men left their wives with Zenia. The reason is sex.
“’Come on, you’re not a baby. He loves your ass. Or some other body part, how would I know? Anyway, for sure it’s not your soul, it’s not you. If you didn’t put out he’d just take anyway. I’ve watched him, he’s greedy shit, they’re all just rapists at heart. You’re an innocent, Karen. Believe me, there’s only one thing any man ever wants from a woman, and that’s sex. How much you can get them to pay for it is the important thing. ’” (Atwood, M., 1994, p. 272)
Zenia offered them adventurous sex and that is what they were really obsessed with.
This research paper was designed to render the meaning and to interpret the brilliant novel of Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride. At the same time, it should answer some speculative questions which emerged during the interpretation of the book. The central aim was to present relevant facts and ideas in a scientific way yet they still should be at understandable level even for a non-expert reader.
The contents of this thesis were divided into several chapters where each of them formed a crucial part for the further interpretation and correct understanding of the novel. At the beginning, the reader became familiar with the period and conditions when The Robber Bride was written and was guided to the proper understanding of the basic terms and definitions of the period. Without these notions, the further interpretation would be much more difficult or even impossible. With the knowledge of relevant terms, the reader was lead further into the deeper analysis of the novel itself.
The Robber Bride is a unique integration of Gothic and postmodern features. Hence the reader was lead to make the acquaintance of Gothic features appearing in the novel and Gothic features in general as well. The paper presents these ideas in a clear and comprehensive way, with the main focus on two typical Gothic features: the existence and repressing of the other part of human’s identity and the mysterious symbol of mirrors. Yet it still deals with minor dark motifs that mold the tense atmosphere of the story. The reader is taken around the interpretations of literary critics and is offered his or her own finalization of the suggested hypothesis as well.
Later on, the reader became familiar with the ideas and interpretations of postmodern features and symbols appearing in The Robber Bride. The presentation of ideas was mainly focused on complex view of the novel from the postmodern point of view. The reader’s attention was orientated towards the term of intertextuality in the broad sense of the word. The paper illustrated various intertexts appearing in The Robber Bride as well as their interpretation supported by the opinion of literary critics. Further on, it dealt with sensitive issue of multicultural Canadian society and its impact on the protagonists of the novel.
One separate chapter was devoted to the main protagonist of the novel, Zenia. Zenia certainly is the most important figure of the whole novel and her treacherous deeds and unpredictable reactions were analyzed from the detailed point of view. The reader was offered a complex interpretation of her behavior with various speculative questions that were confronted with several arguments of literary critics. It also contained a particular speculation about vague Zenia’s death and her uncertain origin.
At the end of this thesis, the reader was offered another speculative chapter which dealt with male characters of The Robber Bride. The investigation showed that men played only marginal role in the novel. They are considered to be just raw material Zenia works with. Although, they influenced the lives of the three main protagonist in a sensible way, the played no crucial role in the interpretation of the novel.
We might say that Margaret Atwood is one of the most famous and respected postmodern authors in the world. She impresses her readers with witty and absorbing style of writing and yet she interferes with sensitive social issues. She always presents them in an unconventional way by which she attached millions of supporters all over the world. Since the beginning of her fruitful career, she published many thrilling novels and The Robber Bride belongs to the most favourite of them all.
This thesis was designed to clarify the meaning of this novel and to offer some peculiar speculations to the reader. Based on respected arguments of various literary critics, it should offer a complex and detailed view into the most compelling issues of the remarkable novel The Robber Bride.
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