The Penelopiad

Themes and Colors
Storytelling, Textual Authority, and Falsehoods Theme Icon
Class, Womanhood, and Violence Theme Icon
Antiquity, Modernity, and Progress for Women Theme Icon
Christianity vs. Greek Religion Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Penelopiad, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad reinvents the myth of Homer’s Odyssey, retelling it through the eyes of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife. In her retelling, Atwood actively engages with questions of mythology and invention, self-reflexively investigating the relationship between storytelling and truth. The concept of storytelling is highly important from the very beginning of the novel, when in Penelope’s first chapter she talks about why she is finally telling her own story and discusses how she…

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Atwood’s account of the events of the Odyssey through Penelope and the Maids’ eyes focuses on the hardship and heartbreak of life as a woman in ancient Greece. Among these difficulties are the social and psychological pressures that women face. Atwood examines them primarily through Penelope, whose first person account gives the reader a sense of how Penelope feels about the societal expectations of women.

One of the problematic social dynamics that Atwood explores…

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The Penelopiad is framed as Penelope and the Maids’ retrospective narratives, in which they look back from the afterlife on what they did in the past. Due to this dynamic, Penelope repeatedly refers to how society has changed since the time when she was alive in Greece.

The ancient Grecian characters are keenly aware of what goes on in the modern era. In the afterlife, spirits have the option to return to earth for…

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Atwood’s novel, which Penelope narrates from the afterlife of the ancient Greek underworld, actively engages with spiritual and religious subject matter, imagining the relationships between lofty concepts like death, fate, and repentance. From her postmortem perspective, Penelope spends a significant amount of time describing the conditions of the afterlife, which Atwood bases on Greek mythology. In the afterlife, Penelope walks through fields of asphodel (the section of the afterlife for the virtuous, heroic, and god-favored)…

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