Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Margaret Atwood's The Penelopiad. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
The Penelopiad: Introduction
A concise biography of Margaret Atwood plus historical and literary context for The Penelopiad.
The Penelopiad: Plot Summary
A quick-reference summary: The Penelopiad on a single page.
The Penelopiad: Detailed Summary & Analysis
In-depth summary and analysis of every chapter of The Penelopiad. Visual theme-tracking, too.
The Penelopiad: Themes
Explanations, analysis, and visualizations of The Penelopiad's themes.
The Penelopiad: Quotes
The Penelopiad's important quotes, sortable by theme, character, or chapter.
The Penelopiad: Characters
Description, analysis, and timelines for The Penelopiad's characters.
The Penelopiad: Symbols
Explanations of The Penelopiad's symbols, and tracking of where they appear.
The Penelopiad: Theme Wheel
An interactive data visualization of The Penelopiad's plot and themes.
Brief Biography of Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood was born in Ontario, Canada to parents Margaret Dorothy and Carl Edmund Atwood. Margaret was an avid reader from a young age and quickly realized that she wanted to pursue a career in writing. After studying at the University of Toronto, Atwood attended Harvard University and obtained a masters’ degree in English. Following her graduate studies, Atwood began teaching at various universities in Canada. Since she began publishing her work in the 1960s, Atwood has produced more than fifteen novels and almost twenty volumes of poetry, as well as many short story collections, children’s books, and nonfiction works.
Historical Context of The Penelopiad
Although Atwood does not explicitly consider The Penelopiad to be a feminist novel, The Penelopiad and Atwood’s other writing are politically aligned with the Feminist Movement. The Feminist Movement is a social and political movement whose goal is to make society equal for the genders. In order to do this, one of the approaches of the Feminist Movement has been to reveal the ways in which women have been oppressed throughout history. The Penelopiad falls into this category, as it shows how The Odyssey is a male-focused text that has been read primarily without consideration of how gender affects the poem and its characters. The Penelopiad also describes events surrounding the supposedly historic Trojan War. It is still unclear to scholars whether the Trojan War actually happened in some capacity; however, it is certain that the events as recounted in The Penelopiad and The Odyssey have been so mythologized that they are no longer accurate.
Other Books Related to The Penelopiad
Perhaps most obviously, Atwood’s novel is closely intertwined with and based off of Homer’s The Odyssey, an ancient Greek epic poem that describes the Greek hero Odysseus’s long journey home after the Trojan War. Odysseus’s journey was an oral myth long before Homer recorded it; however, Homer’s text is still considered to be the canonical account of the story. As Atwood states in her introduction, she also consulted with a variety of other ancient Greek texts in order to give a more expansive vision of Penelope’s early life and childhood.
Key Facts about The Penelopiad
- Full Title: The Penelopiad
- When Published: October 2005
- Literary Period: Contemporary Literature
- Genre: Feminist Literature, Postmodern Literature
- Setting: Ancient Greece and the Greek afterlife
- Climax: Odysseus’s murder of the Suitors and the Twelve Maids
- Antagonist: Helen, Odysseus (partially)
- Point of View: Penelope, in a first-person narrative, and The Twelve Maids, in various narrative forms
Extra Credit for The Penelopiad
Play. Margaret Atwood developed The Penelopiad into a play in October 2005, (immediately following its publication as a novel) which was then performed throughout Canada.
Myth Series. Atwood’s book was written as part of the larger Canongate Myth Series, a series of books based on myths that had been rewritten by contemporary writers.