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Ten Quotes From Margaret Atwood, an Oracle of Our Time

By Matt Reimann. Nov 18, 2017. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature

Readers have adored Margaret Atwood since her debut novel, The Edible Woman, animated the anxieties and torments of contemporary female life. Ever since, Atwood has continued to write first-rate fiction, exploring themes of feminism, oppression, dystopia, and environmental disaster, earning her a dedicated and enthusiastic readership. The times have only caught up with her, vindicating those concerns and speculative scenarios that seemed excessively alarmist forty, thirty, or even five years ago. It is no wonder that in her long career, Atwood is probably more famous than she has ever been, now with a smash adaptation of her 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, on Hulu. As not only a storyteller but an oracle, she was the subject of a profile in The New Yorker this spring, which called her “the prophet of dystopia,” while those at Vox have lauded her as “the voice of 2017.”

Margaret Atwood 2015.jpgMargaret Atwood, now in her late 70s, continues to add to her expansive oeuvre of novels, poems, criticism, and children’s books. Below, we’ve collected ten quotes from one of the most visionary writers of our time.

  • War is what happens when language fails.” The Robber Bride (1993)
  • "Another belief of mine: that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise." Cat’s Eye (1988) One of Atwood’s most famous―and identifiable―quotes.
  • “‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. (I love that wonderful rhetorical device, ‘a male friend of mine.’ It's often used by female journalists when they want to say something particularly bitchy but don't want to be held responsible for it themselves .... ‘I mean,’ I said, ‘men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on the average a lot more money and power.’ ‘They're afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They're afraid of being killed,’ they said.” Writing the Male Character,” a lecture. You may have seen this thought condensed as "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them,” somewhere on the internet, attributed to Atwood. It appears that distillation comes from the quotation above.
  • “In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Bluebeard’s Egg (1983)
    Wise words from someone who knows not only to protect the environment, but to appreciate it.
  • Sanity is a valuable possession; I hoard it the way people once hoarded money. I save it, so I will have enough, when the time comes.” The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
  • “The fabric of democracy is always fragile everywhere because it depends on the will of citizens to protect it, and when they become scared, when it becomes dangerous for them to defend it, it can go very quickly.” An interview (2010)
  • All stories are about wolves. All worth repeating, that is. Anything else is sentimental drivel …Think about it. There's escaping from the wolves, fighting the wolves, capturing the wolves, taming the wolves. Being thrown to the wolves, or throwing others to the wolves so the wolves will eat them instead of you. Running with the wolf pack. Turning into a wolf. Best of all, turning into the head wolf. No other decent stories exist.” The Blind Assassin (2000)
  • “Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at margaret_atwood.jpgit.” The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
  • "In view of the fading animals
    the proliferation of sewers and fears
    the sea clogging, the air
    nearing extinction
    we should be kind, we should

    take warning, we should forgive each other
    Instead we are opposite, we

    touch as though attacking"
    "They Are Dangerous Nations"
  • “I'm working on my own life story. I don't mean I'm putting it together; no, I'm taking it apart.” The Tent (2006)

Browse Margaret Atwood Books

Photo courtesy of Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 4.0.

Matt Reimann
Reader, specializing in Twentieth Century and contemporary fiction. Committed to spreading an infectious passion for literature, language, and stories.


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