Making the journey : the female Bildungsroman and quest motifs in selected Margaret Atwood texts.
The research presented in this dissertation examines, from a gender studies approach, the genre of the female Bildungsroman and the representation of quest motifs in three primary texts selected from the oeuvre of Margaret Atwood. These three texts include: The Penelopiad (2005), Surfacing (1972) and Cat’s Eye (1988). Given that the Bildungsroman is traditionally championed by a male protagonist as well as the varied nature of this quest, which is also led by a male hero, this project investigates texts which highlight the nature of the female protagonist’s experience and the variation in her Bildung and quest as a result. In order to provide a thorough analysis of these texts an extensive theoretical approach of gender theory, Bildungsroman theory, and quest theory has been used. This promotes a focus on the construction of gender in the texts, the traditional structure of the Bildungsroman and how the selected texts conform to but also deviate from this model, as well as illustrating how variations of Joseph Campbell’s mythic structure have been included in the texts. The Penelopiad offers a retelling of Homer’s Odyssey epic from the point of view of a female narrator, Penelope. In this text several narrative techniques are used to ‘rewrite’ the original myth and privilege the female perspective. Surfacing provides an account of a spiritual quest; this text couples the protagonist’s Bildung and search for identity with spirituality. Cat’s Eye represents an example of a psychological quest as the protagonist’s journey is closely connected to her memories of the past and the experiences to which they are linked. The variations within these texts contribute to a comprehensive analysis of the complex nature of this study and this genre as a whole. These texts provide different examples of Bildungsromane and representations of the quest. This examination explores the extent to which Atwood makes use of the traditional Bildungsroman structure, and also the ways in which she is able to skilfully manipulate the genre and provide texts that more accurately constitute a female Bildungsroman.