LT Classics Challenge: The Robber Bride Discussion

September 9, 2011 at 2:15 pm 2 comments

Welcome, Challengers! Sorry about the lateness of this post — let’s get right down to it!

How do Tony, Roz and Charis represent different aspects of femininity?

I know this sounds New-Ageish, but Tony, Roz and Charis very clearly represent the different faces of the threefold goddess. Tony, with her child-like body and her child-sized clothing, as well as her jealousy of Zenia’s sexuality, makes her the pure Maiden. She is also very interested in war and knowledge, making her a bit like Athena, one of the virginal Greek Goddesses (though not the goddess of virgins).

Roz is shapely, round, having given birth to three children and caring like the Mother goddess for everyone around her. Charis, with her knowledge of all things spiritual and her possession of her grandmother’s healing power, is the crone — in fact, near the end, the other women even refer to her as such. She’s been the maiden, but that was ripped away from her, and she has also been the mother by giving birth to August, but all of the women have some aspect of the other Goddess faces.

How does Zenia morph to take advantage of each woman’s identity or self-defined role?

There are a million ways in which Zenia does this, but let’s focus on how she first appears to the women. She comes to Tony as the embodiment of sex, of womanhood and femininity, everything the Maiden Tony is missing in her life. Zenia becomes a woman who is sensual and outgoing without sacrificing intelligence — everything Tony isn’t.

For Charis, Zenia becomes someone in need of healing. Charis the Crone’s purpose in life, her god-given gift, is to heal people — and so Zenia becomes someone with cancer, in need of a safe haven in which to  heal. Zenia and Roz have a bit of a different relationship — Zenia preys on Roz’s motherly aspect by pretending to go after her son, which only happens later in the novel.

Who is Zenia? Does the novel ever definitively answer this question? Does it need an answer?

The question is and isn’t answered. Zenia is the moon; she’s illusion. She is a chameleon, embodying the worst of the female nature but able to imitate the best aspects. Perhaps Charis’ tarot reading near the middle bst answers this question — Zenia is the High Priestess, the feminine side of God.

Of course, on a realistic note, Zenia is a manipulative bitch. But that’s not as academically viable, I suppose. :P

Has Atwood’s portrayal of female identity changed from The Edible Woman to The Robber Bride? How so, and in what respects?

It’s become more complicated. There is still the sense that women can change, women are flexible and chameleon-like. As Marian becomes different people with Peter and Duncan, Zenia changes and the other women change slightly too. It’s a more complex, more fluid flexibility of identity, and an acknowledgment that there are so many aspects to the female gender that it’s almost impossible to pin down commonalities among us — as shown by Zenia and her multiple identities.


Entry filed under: LT Classics Challenge.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Eva  |  September 20, 2011 at 6:33 am

    I finally got a copy of this from my library and raced through it. It was sooo good, one of my favourite Atwoods yet, so thanks for the impetus to pick it up! :) First I’ll answer the questions on my own, then I’ll look at/reply to your answers.

    How do Tony, Roz and Charis represent different aspects of femininity?

    They all reminded me of the Whitman quote: “I am vast. I contain multitudes.” Each of them has certain contradictory characteristics, but that just helps them come across as complete individuals. Tony’s feminine side is most obvious in her physical appearance: in fact, when she thinks about her success in the male-dominated field of war studies, she attributes it in part to her lack of physical threat. Roz, on the other hand, is a bit of an ‘Amazon,’ but her ‘childbearing hips,’ and peasant, strong-boned build play up a different side of womanhood. While Charis is the more ethereal, spiritual side: throughout history, women have been seen as somehow more in touch with the supernatural than men, and Charis puts that front and centre. They all show that most stereotypical feminine desire to mother, though, the various men in the lives (and children, but to a lesser degree, imo).

    How does Zenia morph to take advantage of each woman’s identity or self-defined role?

    She’s very good at divining people’s secret desires, and then playing them up. For the men, this seems to always be a sex role, whereas for the women it’s more complicated.

    Who is Zenia? Does the novel ever definitively answer this question? Does it need an answer?

    I don’t think it particularly needs an answer…I see her as the dark side of womanhood, the kind of rebound of patriarchy. Before women could work, their very lives depended on being able to control the people around them, particularly the men, in order to get what they needed. Zenia is that writ large, and in a post-second wave world, she uses women as well as men, anyone with resources really

    Has Atwood’s portrayal of female identity changed from The Edible Woman to The Robber Bride? How so, and in what respects?

    I found The Robber Bride to be so much more hopeful: Roz is a business success, Tony’s a popular professor, Charis lives true to herself and her principles…none of these accomplishments felt like real possibilities for Marian. Granted, their lives are still screwed up by falling in love with assholes (this was the one part of the book I just couldn’t understand, although I’ve seen my friends do the same thing), but they pick up the pieces. And their friendship and support is such a wonderful thing: while the men in their lives can’t be depended on, they do have each other. Marian didn’t really find that sisterhood; I’m not sure if Atwood really ‘believed’ in it when she was younger.

    I really love your view of the three friends as Maiden/Mother/Crone. I can completely see it, with Zenia being their shadow. :) I saw Charis as more of a High Priestess than Zenia, but I guess that’s because in my own tarot reading I’ve never thought of the High Priestess as a bitch. LOL And you’re right about how Atwood always seems to be playing with identity, and the masks we all put on and take off around different people.

    • 2. Kate  |  September 22, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      I know you wrote this ages ago, but I am just now rereading it and loving your interpretations! Zenia as a “rebound of patriarchy” is a really good point that I hadn’t considered — manipulation as a survival technique.

      I’m trying to think more about “sisterhood” and Atwood’s works. The Edible Woman and a few of her other works are missing that feature, and her MaddAddam trilogy sometimes features it and sometimes doesn’t. There’s probably more to parse here in terms of what the presence or absence of a strong group of female friends means for any given work.


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