On page 827, our textbook tells us, “One of [Margaret] Atwood’s goals as a scholar has been to bring international attention to Canadian literature,” but when I read “Giving Birth,” I felt it had a different focus.
Picture of Atwood, sourced from here.
From the very first lines of the story when she questions who gives birth, I felt myself unable to stop reading. Atwood’s style of writing is intriguing, clever, and unique. In this video, Atwood gives advice on how to start one’s own story.
It is interesting to note Atwood’s perspective in this work. In writing a story about the experience of childbirth, Atwood automatically breaks from the norm. Ordinarily, works written about motherhood are not centered around the actual act of birthing a child. This work is, however. It focuses on this act, and the mother’s point of view as it is happening. It is also interesting to note that Jeanie’s husband is never named in the story. Instead, he is only given the letter A. as his identifier.
On page 829, we’re told a lot about Jeanie:
She is doing her breathing exercises and timing her contractions with a stopwatch. She has been up since two-thirty in the morning, when she took a bath and ate some lime Jell-O, and it’s now almost ten. She has learned to count, during the slow breathing, in numbers (from one to ten while breathing in, from ten to one while breathing out) which she can actually see while she is silently pronouncing them. Each number is a different color and, if she’s concentrating very hard, a different typeface. They range from plain roman to ornamented circus numbers, red with gold filigree and dots. This is a refinement not mentioned in any of the numerous books she’s read on the subject. Jeanie is a devotee of handbooks. She has at least two shelves of books that cover everything from building kitchen cabinets to auto repairs to smoking your own hams. She doesn’t do many of these things, but she does some of them, and in her suitcase, along with a washcloth, a package of lemon Life Savers, a pair of glasses, a hot water bottle, some talcum powder and a paper bag, is the book that suggested she take along all of these things.
From this section of text, we can tell Jeanie is a very organized person. She plans ahead and has obviously read about the experience of childbirth. Primarily, the rest of the story revolves around Jeanie. We’re told very little about her husband, A. He’s not the focus.
Atwood writes in this article about being a woman writer that, “the only reason for rocking the boat is if you’re still chained to the oars.” She goes on in the article to explain that she feels “writing” versus “women writing” is much stronger, and that being seen as a women writer gives one’s writing a weak connotation. I feel, in writing “Giving Birth,” Atwood was attempting to challenge these views. Jeanie is a strong and intelligent woman, even in the intensely painful moments of childbirth. In having a strong female as the main character in a story revolving around something only a woman could understand, having a child, Atwood attempts to break the stereotype of females being weak.