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Essay/Term paper: Character analysis of estelle in margaret atwood's "rape fantasies"

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Literary Analysis Papers

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Estelle is the only thoroughly developed character in Margaret

Atwood's "Rape Fantasies." Though she is the narrator and quite thoughtful of

the ideas and reactions of the story's supporting players, it is her almost

obsessive preoccupation with a singular topic that actually prompts her to

fully illustrate her own ideas and reactions, drawing a character far more

compelling than any of the men or women she will attempt to describe. Estelle

begins her story and ruminations swiftly. She considers rape, how rape has

recently been treated like a new scourge, and how essays and tips on rape

prevention have become something of an institution themselves. Estelle

recalls a conversation during a recent bridge game, where "rape fantasies"

was the topic and her lunchmates each offered a feeling about it, from

disgust to confusion to admitted interest in elaborate, particular fantasies.

Estelle, during the course of these conversations, makes observations about

the women, subtly revealing her method of focus and her sense of the

important, telling less about the characters of the women and more about

Estelle herself. These constant, critical, and often silly observations are

the very thing which clearly draws the character of this narrator. Her

disregard for dreadful concepts and her ability to make light of serious

situations are the very character qualities that make believable her

carelessness in the end.

The anecdotes about each of the bridge players indicates the comfort

Estelle finds in gossip, unfair criticism, and the sharing of the particulars

of her own rape fantasies. Estelle tells of a moment when one of the bridge

players, Darlene, seemed to address her directly; Estelle thinks that "I may

have been mistaken but she was looking at me." Without ever giving Darlene

the benefit of the doubt, or even considering the minimal power of such an

insult, Estelle is quick to remind the reader how she believes she has the

upper hand to this older woman: "She's forty-one though you wouldn't know it

and neither does she, but I looked it up in the employee file...I mean, not

everyone has access to that file..." Another player, Greta, pipes up the

slightest opinion, this one having nothing remotely to do with Estelle, and

she is disregarded as frivolous. "She worked in Detroit for three years and

she never lets you forget it, it's like she thinks shes'a war hero or

something..." Estelle puts each of them into what she feels is their place,

and never once looks at herself with the same eye. Estelle is above such

criticism only because she can relate to her own feelings, and she is ready

to trivialize and criticize the other characters because she believes she

cannot relate to them, considering mostly their flaws. But it is the clear

similarities between Estelle and the women, shown vividly during this

collective speculation on the "rape fantasy" topic, that realizes Estelle's

character to the audience. Of all the women at the table, only Estelle tosses

out obnoxious humor, and it is the reaction to this obnoxiousness that

unifies the group and identifies Estelle: they're thinking of her the same

way she's thinking of them, but with better reason to do so.

Estelle's own rape fantasies show her creativity and her willingness

to explore a topic, but it is her haphazard movement from one idea to the

next that indicates Estelle's lack of discipline, and effectively shows her

character's careless tendencies. When considering a rape fantasy where she's

a kung fu expert, ready to defend herself against an attack, her mind drifts

away from the point almost immediately: "...or I flip him against a wall or

something. But I could never really stick my fingers in anyone's eyes, could

you? It would feel like hot jello and I don't even like cold jello." This

chaotic transition is important to recognize because it shows how easily this

woman's attention can be diverted. No longer is it a wonder how simple

statements that don't involve Estelle can all of the sudden lead to fiercely

critical thoughts about her fellow bridge players; Estelle rarely stays to

the point, and shifts from one thought to the next to keep herself from

becoming too serious. She makes light of all of the possible rape scenerios

in which she can imagine herself being involved; and she cannot, ironically,

be too critical of theoretical rapists. To her rapists she is sympathetic,

and her rapists are always receptive to this sympathy. She sees their

frustrations and their reasons for acting the way they do: "I feel so sorry

for him, in my rape fantasies I always end up feeling sorry for the guy."

This sense of understanding is never once present for the women at the bridge

table, where no one is trying to rape Estelle, but where everyone is burdened

by the limits of Estelle's perception of reality.

The late introduction of Estelle's location during the telling of the

story--a singles bar--emphasizes the character elements that have been

introduced throughout. Not only has the audience of her rape fantasies been

the reader, safely removed from Estelle, but it has been a faceless,

unfamiliar person who has quite possibly noticed all of the character traits

that cheapen Estelle. In this instance, Estelle shows that she is quite

capable of practicing her benevolent behavior in her rape fantasies, whether

she realizes it or not. "...how could a fellow do that to a person he's just

had a long conversation with...?" she asks, not thinking once about the

person to whom she's speaking. She gives this person the benefit of the

doubt, reveals many intimate details about herself, and gives this faceless

person more credit and more candidness than the women at the bridge game. It

is not only the rapists that do not get criticized by Estelle, but anyone who

hasn't had the chance to disappoint her in some way. In Estelle's world, only

strangers are capable of this status of perfection, and therefore worthy of

hearing things like gossip, criticism, and the particulars of her rape

fantasies: things she would never reveal to anyone else.

Estelle is, then, revealed best when the author simply allows her to

speak. To have told the story in the third person would have removed the tone

and wealth of information that hearing Estelle's voice provides. Her

character is developed richly and efficiently through the moments of humor

that surround her absurd fantasies of rape; her voice and thought process is

illustrated clearly through the transitions between serious concepts and

silly ones; and it is these transitions that reveal the contradictions in her

thinking that she is unable to recognize. Estelle is unsure of some of the

most important rape questions but is somehow satisfied in this

uncertainty. The author shows this attitude to be a constant in Estelle's

character, present whether she considers concrete or abstract ideas; and it

is this trait, so deeply embedded in her very fiber, that negatively affects

her humor, creativity, and other redeeming qualities so completely. In the

end--after she has reiterated herself to be vulnerable and sympathetic to

strangers, and after she has made this clear to none other than a complete

stranger--she considers the idea of rape in a vague statement: "I know it

happens but I just don't understand it, that's the part I really don't

understand." And there is little wonder why. 

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