The Penelopiad


Margaret Atwood

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The Penelopiad: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

This Chapter is written as lyrics to a ballad sung by the Twelve Maids. In the song, the Maids state that the only time they rest and do not work or get chased by noblemen wanting to have sex with them is during sleep. During their sleep, the Maids dream that they are sailing at sea, wearing red dresses, and sleeping with the men that they love.
While the sea terrifies Penelope, the Maids envision the sea as a place where they could be free from the strains of their social class, including the daily threat of sexual violence from their masters and their masters’ guests.
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In the Maids’ dreams, these men take the Maids to feasts and the Maids sing to them at night and take them sailing. There is no pain, only laughter and kindness. When they wake in the morning, however, the Maids return to working and having sex with the men who command them to.
The Maids imagine male companions who, unlike the men that they usually encounter, care about and love them, emphasizing just how negative the Maids’ real experiences with men have been.
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