Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home
Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason
learn more at: www.pbs.org/moyers

BILL MOYERS: What interested me when I read it is that Homer tells the story of Odysseus and his ten years at the Trojan War and his ten years of wandering until he gets back. He tells it from Odysseus standpoint, he tells it from the masculine world view. And you have taken the story of Penelope, his wife, who's a relatively inconspicuous figure, not inconspicuous, she's a relatively marginal figure in Homer's account of it. And you've give her her own voice.

I mean in Homer this is the description of Penelope. "Shrewd Odysseus, you're a fortunate man to have won a wife of such preeminent virtue. How faithful was your flawless Penelope. How faithful was your flawless Penelope, Icarus' daughter. How loyal has she kept the memory of the husband of her youth. The glory of her virtue will not fade with the years, but the deathless gods themselves will make a beautiful song for mortal ears in honor of the constant Penelope." But we don't hear much from Penelope in Homer in her own voice. You have given her her own voice.

MARGARET ATWOOD: She has a somewhat different voice. The Odyssey is actually constructed in a very interesting and clever way. It's like movies that you see now in which you cut back and forth from one scene to the other, so that part of it is Odysseus approaching, then we cut to the palace to see what's going on there. Penelope doesn't know that Odysseus is approaching, she's in desperate straits. They're trying to murder her fun, they're importuning her, they're eating up all her stuff, whatever is she to do.

So that's how the audience-- THE ODYSSEY goes, it's goes back and forth. Some of it is from Penelope's point of view. She happens to be rather tearful in The Odyssey. I didn't have to deal with that. It's true that people cry a lot more in both THE ILIAD and THE ODYSSEY then we might find agreeable nowadays. They do a lot of public waling. So I had to deal with the tearfulness. But she must have been a pretty shrewd practical person to have run things for so long by herself. So I make her much more obviously shrewd and practical then she is in the Odyssey.

BILL MOYERS: But as I read that I thought of a theme that runs through much of your storytelling which is that life is not all sugar and spice for little girls.

MARGARET ATWOOD: Life is not sugar and spice for anybody. If you're telling it from a female point of view it's going to seem life is not sugar and spice for little girls. But if you tell it from the point of for instance Oliver Twist then it's not sugar and spice for little boys. I did a novel from an entirely male point of view recently cause I was tired of people saying to me, "Why do you always write from the point of view of a woman?" And I was tired of saying, "Cause it's easier." So I wrote one entirely from a male character. And then of course they said, "They did you choose that-- novel from the point of view of a man," at which point I said, "Why not? Is there something wrong with that?"

People always wanna know this, but there isn't a hard and fast answer. Historically women have been on the less visibility powerful side of things. However, you'll notice in THE ODYSSEY that all of the characters who help Odysseus are female, almost all of them with the exception of-- of Hermes. The goddesses and the human women who help him out are all women — what am I saying — the human beings who help him out are all women. So they have quite a lot of power within this story, but it's not the kind of power that an Agamemnon and Menelaus etcetera has.

BILL MOYERS: It's not their story, they are the extras in a way. I mean they're not-- they-- they--

BILL MOYERS: --play vital roles on the stage, but it's not told from their viewpoint and you--

MARGARET ATWOOD: Yeah, as soon as you tell something from the viewpoint of a character then that character has the spotlight, even if they're an orphan or a King Lear, they are still the center of the story.



© Public Affairs Television 2006. All Rights Reserved. close this window