Throughout The Penelopiad, Atwood connects fiber work and Penelope’s weaving with ideas of storytelling and lying. Penelope refers to telling her own narrative using fiber work terms, saying that she will “spin a thread of her own,” and she calls Telemachus a “spinner of falsehoods like his father.” The idea of “spinning a tale” implies invention, suggesting storytelling is not a reflection of the truth but a fabrication of it. The weaving and fiber crafts that are literally present in the novel are also used for purposes of deception, further associating fiber work, lying, and storytelling. Penelope’s own infamous weaving project is based on a lie, when, to try to pacify the suitors, Penelope tells them she will marry as soon as she is finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law Laertes. However, Penelope undoes all of her progress every night to prolong the process and buy herself time. In doing so, Penelope literalizes the figures of speech she uses that connect fiber work with storytelling and lying.
Weaving and Fiber Work Quotes in The Penelopiad
And what did I amount to, once the official version gained ground? An edifying legend. A stick used to beat other women with. Why couldn’t they be as considerate, as trustworthy, as all-suffering as I had been? That was the line they took, the singers, the yarn-spinners. Don’t follow my example! I want to scream in your ears—yes, yours!
Nine months he sailed the wine-red seas of his mother’s blood…
In his frail dark boat, the boat of himself,
Through the dangerous ocean of his vast mother he sailed
From the distant cave where the threads of men’s lives are spun,
Then measured, and then cut short
By the Three Fatal Sisters, intent on their gruesome handicrafts,
And the lives of women also are twisted into the strand…
Rumors came, carried by other ships… Odysseus had been in a fight with a giant one-eyed Cyclops, said some; no, it was only a one-eyed tavern keeper, said another… Some of the men had been eaten by cannibals, said some; no, it was just a brawl of the usual kind, said others… Odysseus was the guest of a goddess on an enchanted isle, said some… and the two of them made love deliriously every night; no, said others, it was just an expensive whorehouse, and he was sponging off the Madam. Needless to say, the minstrels took up these themes and embroidered them considerably.
Though we had to do it carefully, and talk in whispers, these nights had a touch of festivity about them, a touch—even—of hilarity… We told stories as we worked away at our task of destruction; we shared riddles, we made jokes… We were almost like sisters. In the mornings… we’d exchange smiles of complicity… Their ‘Yes ma’ams’ and ‘No ma’ams’ hovered on the edge of laughter, as if neither they nor I could take their servile behavior seriously.