"Giving Birth" by Margaret Atwood (1977)

06Feb05

Atwood’s interest in language and connecting the creation of language (and meaning) with the “creative” process of giving birth was interesting. But Atwood also notes that often language is tricky, it fails us:

The word in English for unwanted intercourse is rape, but there is no word in the language for what is about to happen to this woman.

By the way, that sentence (in reference to a woman about to give birth to an unplanned and unwanted baby) is HEAVY. Perhaps as language can fail us, so does giving birth fail for some women, like the unnamed woman from the car. Connecting language and childbirth gives language a distinctly feminine quality, which I thought was interesting because mainly I’ve noticed that language was constructed to favor masculine qualities.

You know, I never did fully grasp the unnamed woman’s role in the story. She seemed to be Jeannie’s antithesis in the car—she was alone and did not want to have this child while Jeannie had her husband (I think) and wanted to have her baby. However, Jeannie reveals her true motivations for getting pregnant later in the story: she is having a baby so that she will no longer be left out of some secret club of womanhood who understands something she does not. However, this motivation does not associate nor disassociate her from the unnamed woman in any way. Maybe the unnamed woman was simply some universal mother figure? I don’t know! She was the only part of the story that I didn’t understand.

Jeannie’s recounting of her memory of the pain she felt during labor fading reminded me of The Bell Jar:

Later Buddy told me the woman was on a drug that would make her forget she’d had any pain and that when she swore and groaned she really didn’t know what she was doing because she was in a twilight sleep.
I thought it sounded just like the sort of drug a man would invent. Here was a woman in terrible pain, obviously feeling every bit of it or she wouldn’t groan like that, and she would go straight home and start another baby, because the drug would make her forget how bad the pain had been, when all the time, in some secret part of her, that long, blind, doorless, and windowless corridor of pain was waiting to open up and shut her in again.

But Atwood suggests that women begin to forget the pain naturally. That seems like a terrible trick for a woman’s body to play on her.



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