• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

"Elaine's art is an outlet for her repressed memories." How far do you agree that this is how Margaret Atwood uses art in her novel?

Extracts from this document...


"Elaine's art is an outlet for her repressed memories." How far do you agree that this is how Margaret Atwood uses art in her novel? Enigmatic and surreal, Elaine's paintings seem to steadfastly resist categorisation, despite the art world clamouring to attach to them pretentious ideological connotations, and Elaine herself mystified as to their significance. However, as the reader - and the protagonist herself - delves into Elaine's harrowing childhood, it becomes evident that the images are in truth pictorial manifestations of repressed traumas bubbling uncontrollably in her subconscious. Intensely personal and deeply allegorical, the images fuse actual memories with the psychological associations that these memories exert, creating a blend of the 'real' and the subjective that offers the reader a unique glimpse into the protagonist's psyche, and demonstrates the true pathos of a character unable to exorcise her past. Elaine herself fails to understand the origin of her creative impulses, replying jadedly 'why does anyone do anything?' when quizzed by a journalist as to why she is compelled to paint. She is also mystified as to the meaning of the objects that she depicts, claiming 'I know that these things must be memories, but they do not have the quality of memories...they arrive detached from any context; they are simply there.' Such self-incomprehension suggests that her art is primarily the cathartic expression of repressed emotions and memories that her conscious, rational self can in no way account for or explain. Even as a child, Elaine is marked by a keen appreciation for the sensory characteristics of her surroundings, for example recalling vividly ...read more.


Smeath and Cordelia. In Three Muses the figures whom helped Elaine in childhood all hold spherical objects resembling the marble, representing their protective roles. It is appropriate that in Elaine's final painting, Unified Field Theory, the protective talisman is held near the heart of the Virgin Mary, who is also inextricably bound in Elaine's psyche with notions of protection and survival. Elaine attempts to paint her many times, trying to embody the image that she believed ensured her survival in the ravine. The Virgin is depicted as a lioness, 'fierce, alert to danger, wild,' and also as a typical mother of the 1940s, 'wearing a winter coat over her blue robe...carrying two brown paper bags full of groceries.' In this sense, a comparison is drawn between her and Elaine's mother, who in Pressure Cooker is shown to dematerialise, become insubstantial, almost certainly as a result of her failure to support Elaine through the bullying. The metaphors of heart and cat's eye are effectively twinned, and twinship itself is an allegory within Elaine's art. Half A Face, the only picture of Cordelia, demonstrates the inextricability of Elaine and her enigmatic nemesis. Another face is behind Cordelia's, draped in a white cloth, whilst Cordelia herself is 'tentative, hesitant, reproachful-' a mirror of all Elaine's childhood emotions. The title also implies that the women are somehow indistinguishable, with the constituent parts of both 'Elaine' and 'Cordelia' needed to create a cohesive whole. Metamorphosis is another key theme found in the protagonist's art. ...read more.


Not all the art mentioned in the novel is cathartic, and two other distinct motivations for artistry emerge. Jon's 'pure painting' exemplifies the idea of creativity for its own sake, whilst Elaine's feminist contemporaries engage in propagandist, confrontational art, designed as an affront to the patriarchal ideology of the establishment. Elaine herself feels incongruous with the art world. Although admitting, 'I feel I should admire these paintings, because I'm incapable of painting that way myself,' Elaine secretly dislikes the majority of Jon's work, and her sardonic, barbed comments in the narrative (of Jon's abstract paintings she remarks 'I've seen things like this beside the highway, when something's been run over') reflect a bemusement with the innovative techniques practised by the new cohort of conceptual artists. Likewise, Elaine's relationship with her feminist contemporaries is largely ambivalent, corresponding to her attitude towards the ideology as a whole. She is slightly envious of the zest and enthusiasm of the women with whom she exhibits, claiming that their art 'yells defiance,' and evidently derives a certain sense of pride from the hostility of reactionaries, saying 'paintings that can get bottles of ink thrown at them...must have an odd revolutionary power.' Yet Elaine's internalised suspicion and hostility towards women, derived from her traumatic experiences at their hands, combined with her natural understanding of - and sympathy for - men, render her unable to fully subscribe to a movement based around female solidarity. She admits 'I know I am unorthodox, hopelessly heterosexual, a mother, quisling and secret wimp....I am like someone watching from the sidelines, waving a cowardly handkerchief, as the troops go boyishly off to war. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Art & Design section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Art & Design essays

  1. Personal study for art

    Our culture is saturated with irony whether we know it or not. This quote from Barbara suggests that she thinks that the culture we live in is selfish and sarcastic. She also then says although we may not think this or know this, however this statement is still true.

  2. Free essay

    Discuss arguments for and against the view that Conceptual Art should be regarded not ...

    Composition and the effort to create a pictorial illusion are never, according to Fried, quite convincing enough, quite original enough, to be satisfying. Donald Judd explained the problem: When you start relating parts, in the first place, you're assuming you have a vague whole- the rectangle of the canvas- and

  1. Browning's View of Art, "Andrea del Sarto" and "Fra Lippo Lippi."

    He is sure, "it means intensely and means good." He is sure too that to reproduce what is beautiful in it is the mission of Art. Lippo deduces his right to paint the world and its inhabitants as he sees them from the fact that God made them so.

  2. To what Extent did the System of Patronage Effect Works of Art

    This example shows the classical influence over the content of paintings. Asking for a series of paintings with Caesar in them gave Lodovico great honour. Many ambassadors flocked to see the paintings, and this seriously improved Mantua's status. So city honour was extremely important too.

  1. Show the Links Between Dada/Surrealism and Pop Art.

    The Paris group disintegrated in 1922. In their efforts to express the negation of all current aesthetic and social values, the Dadaists frequently used artistic and literary methods that were deliberately incomprehensible. Dada as a movement declined in the 1920s, and some of its practitioners became prominent in other modern-art movements, notably Surrealism.

  2. Primitive Art’s Influence on Modern Art

    the divisions of a highly decorated zone and an undecorated lower zone. Wright even used Mayan models for exterior layout (148). Between 1916-22, Wright accepted a commission from Aline Barnsdall to build an elaborate complex on a hill in Hollywood, CA. This was Wright's first domestic design using Pre-Columbian sources.

  1. Durers painting Melancholia I is seen by many historians as being a depiction of ...

    The mood of the engraving is shown on the faces of the characters. They are all down, sad, unhappy and feeling miserable. All these have relevance to the word depressed which is relevant to the name of the engraving, "Melancoliah".

  2. Surrealism - artists and techniques.

    Sometimes even drugs were taken. This technique would have stopped their mind from working probably, which is as close to a subconscious mind as they will get without actually being subconscious (or they wouldn't be able to paint). Miro admitted that his painting 'Harlequin's Carnival' was painted under these circumstances.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work