Spelling by Margaret Atwood Summary and critical appreciation

Spelling by Margaret Atwood: a critical summary
     Margaret Atwood, in her poem Spelling has justly presented the conflicts between motherhood and  ones profession ( writing; female writers), a kind of struggle that is experienced by a  mother cum creative writer The poem itself stands a metaphor of the struggles and impediments that one can spot  in the path of a female writer, which can hinder her from pursuing her goal. The poet is at a time a  mother, and a writer by profession, espying her daughter playing on the floor with plastic letters of colours Red, Blue and Green. The hues of the plastic letters suggests the juvenescence of the daughter who remains ignorant about the difficulties and struggles of her mother , what is in store for her also in her future life.

     Here the mother is amazed by the child's ability to learn things new. This is indeed a metaphorical way of showcasing the fundamentals of learning and transition into “ learning how to spell, spelling ;how to make spells”.(4-6). The first spell refers to the child's attempt to learn the correct way to spell a word while the second is a window to  her future. It refers to the act of casting spells , where words take up a darker side which also has an implication to  witchcraft, the age -old atrocious practice of silencing a  woman who has the load of her talent on her back. Many a talented woman  along with their creativity, were thus burnt at stake, labelled "witches", in course  of time.At the same time there is also a  biblical reference of the sexual spell that Eve had casted on Adam ages back.
     The second and the third stanzas reveal a case of substituting motherhood with writing. It refers to the act of locking oneself in a room, a kind of self isolation,  so that words( ideas) can be created and poems  be composed. Though a female writer possess a room of her own often she is hindered from expressing herself by certain immaterial barriers. One such barrier is motherhood. The struggle between professional desire and maternal instinct can infuse a feeling of dejection in her.  Here a female writer is torn between motherhood and  her profession.This struggle is analogous to the struggles of those women who were harassed by soldiers during the second world war. The soldiers tied the legs of those women who they raped earlier, thereby preventing them from giving birth. Here Atwood sketches how a female writer is being prevented from giving birth to the fruit of her intellect or mind.  The victor ( man or the society) is forcing her to go against her natural ways. A woman who desires to give birth to a child and a woman who desires to bring out the fruit of her intellect is paralleled.
     she is the same ancestress ( ref of Mary Webster) who was burnt for having practiced witchcraft . Her mouth was covered so that no last utterances would sow the seeds of rage and  endless revolution , for words hold immense power and sway over generations. Their  last words could have  obviously created a furore which was deliberately prevented.  Many witches were burnt where their language” fell away from their bones”. This is an implied metaphor of the burning of the  witches’ body along with all their powerful words. At some point “ the rock breaks open”( just like a volcano their body too erupts and their lifeblood( imagination) flows out . These women are hollow and not solid like the granite.
     spoken words are powerful than written words( speech is privileged over writing). The words that one inscribes on their mind remains powerless until they are uttered.Our female writers write, but they are not allowed to speak out the truth and they  die without leaving their legacy behind. Thus their body becomes the metaphor of their suppressed talents and identity( how they are prevented from delivering the fruit of their intellect).
she concludes the poem with an ironical note that how a woman's name becomes a part of her "self" and how some women don't even possess the right to claim their name(self).


  1. I read many summaries of the poem bt this was the best among all

  2. Yes, it is the best analysis! ☺️👍


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