¶ … Conventional literary criticism pertaining to Margaret Atwood and her works of fiction tend to focus on the postmodern genre of literature for which she is generally regarded as a purveyor. This scope of focus certainly applies to a bevy of criticism aimed towards some of her shorter works of fiction, particularly that found in her collection of short stories Bluebeard's Egg. Carolyn Merli (2007) both mentions this propensity and also is disposed to "consider the "post modern" strategies of one of Atwood's, Bluebeard's Egg." Postmodernists will find a variety of pieces of evidence to justify an analysis of Atwood's titular work from this collection via this perspective, such as her temporal displacements (Ridout 856) in which the narration leaps forward and backwards in time despite the chronicling of a single dinner party. In examining the work through such a lens, however, it may be easy to forget one of the most important facets of this particular story. It is vital to understand that what Atwood has constructed with her version of the Bluebeard fairytale is actually the inverse of a fairy tale itself. Atwood's work of literature proves that fairy tale lives, endings, and mores are not enough for happiness, and that in their wake reign morasses of doubt and dissatisfaction.
In order to propagate her take on the inverse effects that fairy tales can have on real people, it is necessary for Atwood to eventually set up a plethora of points of comparison between Bluebeard and her story, as well as between fairy tales in general and her story. The latter is evinced fairly early on in "Bluebeard's Nest" as the author considers the viewpoint of Sally, the story's protagonist. On the surface, it would appear that Sally has everything a woman could want -- an attractive, affluent husband, a beautiful house, some degree of wealth and fairly good looks herself. Atwood informs the reader of this fact when Sally reflects that, "She has what they call everything: Ed, their wonderful house on a ravine lot, something she's always wanted" (Atwood 783). In fact, such a combination frequently serves as the ultimate fairy tale paradigm for a number of women. There are also elements of this model demonstrated in the original Bluebeard fairytale in which a woman marries to achieve wealth and through that wealth attains happiness (Hermansson 312). However, the critical point of distinction between fairy tales in general and Bluebeard's fairy tale and Atwood's version is that marriage and wealth do not equate to happiness for the bride in Atwood's work. Instead, Sally has a number of doubts about her husband, her best friend, and ultimately herself. These doubts in the face of what appear to be a fairy tale life denote the fact that Atwood is suggesting that fairy tales are not enough to satisfy women in the real world.
One of the critical points of distinction between Atwood's tale and Perrault's "Bluebeard" is the characters, and Atwood's usage of characterization. In the latter, the husband was physically repulsive. The titular character was physically unattractive and a rampant wife murderer -- which makes him about as unattractive to a woman that a man can be. The husband in Atwood's work, however, is renowned for his good looks. In fact, he is so good looking that women have a habit of gravitating...
This characteristic is a remarkable distinction between Sally's husband Ed and Bluebeard; women greatly desire the former whereas they are attempt to eschew the latter. The other principle difference between these characters is that for the duration of the Atwood's story, Ed appears painfully unintelligent, whereas such a character flaw does not apply to Bluebeard. If anything, Bluebeard is credited with a certain shrewdness that enables him to exist the majority of Perrault's work as a criminal whose crimes (of murdering his wives is unnoticed). Both of these points of difference in the husband characters, however, serve to antagonize and ultimately diminish Sally's happiness. Because Ed easily attracts other women she is vigilant and jealous, because he is intellectually less capable than she is, she is dissatisfied with their relationship. Thus, despite the fact that he is a an affluent physician whom women think beautiful, the aforementioned character flaws help to demonstrate the fact that fairly tale lives are not enough to sustain the happiness of women in the real world.
Another vital difference in the works of Perrault and Atwood is the plot of these stories. That difference, of course, partly stems from the character distinctions between the two husbands, and serves as a central point of revision for Atwood in retelling this fairy tale. In Perrault's work, the crux of the plot is largely based on Bluebeard's unseemliness: the repulsive aristocrat's defeat symbolizes the critical turning point that enables his wife and her sister to live 'happily ever after'. In Atwood's version, however, the denouement is ultimately engendered by an appearance of infidelity on the part of Sally's gorgeous husband. All of the fears, skepticism, and feelings of unhappiness that Sally experiences in this work become greatly intensified once she finds her husband fondling another woman -- her best friend Marylynn. The subsequent quotation illustrates the tremendous negative impact that this revelatory act had for Sally, who attempts to recover, interestingly enough, by swooning on a refrigerator. "She walks into the kitchen and puts her cheek against the refrigerator and her arms around it, as far as they will go. She remains that way, hugging it; it hums steadily, with a sound like comfort. After a while she lets go of it" (Atwood 790). The diction in this passage indicates the fact that Sally is devastated by this act of infidelity. She literally needs the refrigerator to support her so she can continue to stand. Moreover, this passage proves that she needs "comfort," because she has just seen her husband transgressing their marriage. She is partly drawn to the refrigerator for support because it provides a degree of steadiness in a life in which she cannot understand her husband. The interesting repercussions of this part of the plot are manifold and pertain to the events in the story. However, it functions as the basis for demonstrating that whereas there is a happy ending to Perrault's story, there is an ambiguous and unhappy ending to the Atwood's. This unhappy ending is further testament to the fact that the fairy tale motif is not enough to provide happiness for real women, whose fairy tale husbands have the proclivity to stray.
In Perrault's work the climax produces unequivocal good -- the wife can distribute her noxious husband's wealth among her family and live as she sees fit. In Atwood's version, however, the climax helps to cast doubt on virtually everything that Sally has perceived through the story (Lyons 313), which emphasizes the distinction in point-of-view between these two fables. Perrault's story was told through an omniscient narrator. Atwood's is largely narrated via the perceptions of Sally who, as a wife of a highly sought after man, is prone to her own interpretations of his actions and hers which, in certain instances, are extremely subjective. However, the vital aspect of this difference in the point-of-view between Atwood's and Perrault's tales is the fact that it compounds the denouement of the plot and significantly contributes to Sally's unhappiness. After witnessing Ed's fondling of Marylynn, Sally is unsure of, "whether she really saw what she thought she saw. Even if she did, what does it mean? Maybe it's just that Ed, in a wayward intoxicated moment, put his hand on the nearest buttock, and Maryland refrained from a shriek or a flinch…"(Atwood 790). This passage reveals several pertinent aspects about Sally's point-of-view. It suggests that she is extremely confused about what she saw -- if…
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