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illness in fiction

August 1, 2012

I’m just following on from thinking about the analysis of health in fiction (Pistacchi’s analysis of Dogside Story in particular)… anyway, I found a paper titled:

Metaphors of Health, Illness and Disease in Margaret Atwood’s Fiction

available as a downloadable document at: 

Metaphors of Health, Illness and Disease in Margaret Atwood’s Fiction / Teresa Gibert
Facultad de Filología, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid, Spain

This paper explores the functional significance of the metaphorical language used by Margaret Atwood in her novels and collections of short stories in order to ascertain how one of our most influential contemporary writers perceives health, illness, and disease. A close analysis of the metaphors in Atwood’s fiction reveals her various ways of approaching these multifaceted phenomena, which have always attracted her attention and which she has treated from different perspectives.
Many of Atwood’s metaphorical expressions involve illness and disease either in the source domain or in the target domain, health being less frequently evoked than its two counterparts. Plants and fruit constitute the most commonly used source domains of Atwood’s metaphors that place both healthy people and ill people in their target domains. For instance, in Bluebeard’s Egg,Yvonne is described as “a plant – not a sickly one, everybody comments on how healthy she always is – but a rare one, which can flourish and even live only under certain conditions” (247). Likewise, in Life Before Man, Auntie Muriel is conceptualised as “their roots, their root, their twisted diseased old root” (121). Similarly, a woman suffering from breast cancer has bad dreams in which “the scar on her breast splits open like a diseased fruit” (Bodily Harm 60).
Rather than resorting to conventional metaphorical expressions, Atwood prefers to articulate the concept of illness by means of innovative similes. Thus, in The Robber Bride , the author refers to how Karen “could see the illness spreading on her mother’s skin, like the hairs on arms, gone out of control; like filaments of lighting, only very small and slow” (294). Karen’s mother is one of the numerous maternal figures who are presented as being afflicted with either real or imaginary illness, such as the mother of the unnamed protagonist of Surfacing , whose children “ceased to take her illnesses seriously, they were only natural phases, like cocoons” (29).
Atwood often places disease in the target domain when she associates it metaphorically with many different concepts, which include honesty (compared with psoriasis and hemorrhoids in Bodily Harm (64)), the use of swearwords (described as “a minor contagious disease, like chicken pox” in Bluebeard’s Egg (20)), and even people who “spread themselves like a virus” (Surfacing123) or who “may be catching” (The Handmaid’s Tale 19).

I wonder if Pistacchi and Gilbert’s work would support a comparative analysis of Grace and Atwood’s fiction…


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