1. Throughout the novel, we never learn the name of our
narrator. Why might Atwood choose anonymity for her heroine?
2. This novel is replete with dis- and re-appearances: fathers
vanish, babies are lost, marriages erode, long-banished memories
return, pregancies occur. Discuss the implications of disappearing
3. Our narrator frequently refers to herself as an "accomplice":
to the killing of the fish, to the accruing of "random samples" for
the film. Over the course of the novel, she not only ceases her
collusion but also becomes an active saboteur. What catalyzes this
4. Early in the novel, the narrator attempts to draw clear
battle lines: men versus women, the city versus the country, the
Americans versus Canadians. In time, however, many of these
opposing camps blur together: supposed Americans are revealed to be
Canadians, Anna shifts her allegiance and sides with the men. What
is the result of these new alliances?
5. The narrator must literally dive into the lake in order to
dredge the swamp of her memory and recover her buried past.
Throughout the novel, the lake serves as both a literal and
symbolic centerpiece. Discuss its role and importance.
6. What can we see from the novel''s discussion of "truth" or
7. What clues in the novel suggest that the narrator is
struggling to supress memories of an abortion?
8. What role does the discovery of her father''s drawings play
in her ability, as a daughter and as a fellow artist, to understand
his life better?
9. Each of the two couples employ different strategies for
wounding and communicating with one another. Do relationship
strategies differ more on gender lines or from couple to couple?
What are the distinctive strategies employed by each
10. Does the heroine remain a reliable narrator throughout? Do
her perceptions ever deviate from reality? At what point, if ever,
do you discount her version of reality?
11. Does your opinion of Joe alter as the novel progresses?
12. Our heroine describes her habitual process of observing,
memorizing, and copying emotions she has seen in others in lieu of
having actual feeling herself. Discuss.
13. What is the role of animals in the novel? The role of
14. In describing childhood games of hide and seek in the
forest, the narrator recalls her fear "that what would come out
when you called would be someone else". When she later escapes into
the forest, she does in fact emerge transformed. What happens on
15. Consider this final manifesto: "This above all, to refuse to
be a victim . . . I have to recant, give up the old belief that I
am powerless." Does a shift in self-perception have the power to
reverse one''s destiny? What factors determine who is and is not a
victim? What gives her the power to break free?
Discussion questions provided courtesy of Anchor Books, a division
of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.