a taste of the world's best short stories


Margaret Atwood - Biography

Margaret Atwood (1939- )
Commentary by Karen Bernardo

Born in Ottawa, Canada, Margaret Atwood's childhood was anything but ordinary. Her father, an entomologist, worked and raised his family out in the extremely rural stretches of northern Ontario and Quebec, and Atwood claims she never attended school for a full year until she was in eighth grade. However, her intellectual development definitely didn't suffer from home schooling; she began writing poems, stories, and plays when she was five.

She was encouraged in her writing when she was in high school, and by the time Atwood entered the University of Toronto, she knew she wanted to be a professional writer. Her first poem was published in 1958, when she was only 19; her first novel, The Edible Woman, was published nine years later, and her entire adult life has been defined by writing and teaching.

A consistent hallmark of Atwood's writing has been her ability to see everyday things in unconventional ways. She suggests that people tend to get so bound up in what they are supposed to think and feel that they often lose the ability to see the obvious and react accordingly. In both the stories covered this week ('Happy Endings' and 'The Age of Lead'), she looks at our deliberate avoidance of the most basic fact of our lives -- our own mortality. In 'The Age of Lead,' a television documentary on a corpse frozen in ice prompts a middle-aged woman to review her whole life and see, for the first time, its emptiness. In 'Happy Endings,' Atwood suggests a wide gamut of possible story scenarios and shows that they all end the same way -- with the death of the protagonists, because that's how all our lives really do turn out. 

Yet these stories reveal a philosophy that is less depressing than thought-provoking. While we can do nothing about our mortality, Margaret Atwood suggests, we can definitely do something about the quality of our lives -- and we should not let society's expectations prevent us from using every moment to the fullest.

Read Storybites' analysis of...

Age of Lead

Happy Endings

"Happy Endings" can be found in the Atwood collection "Bluebeard's Egg," available from Amazon here:

and from Barnes and Noble here: