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Poetry Analysis: Margaret Atwood's "This is a Photograph of Me"

Rukhaya MK, an award-winning writer, has published her works in national and international anthologies and journals.

"This is a Photograph of Me"

"This is a Photograph of Me"


The title of Margaret Atwood's "This is a Photograph of Me" is quite suggestive. The title immediately gives rise to several interpretations: for example, the speaker may want our attention to be drawn to the photograph.

The speaker first describes the photo in terms of time: it was not a recent photograph, but taken some time ago. It appears to be smeared (out of deconstruction). There appeared to be blurred lines as though she was graphically analyzed. The blurred lines and grey flecks (aspersions) seem to be blended with the paper itself. They have now become intricately linked with her personality. The poetess is therefore depicted in the first stanza by means of logical analysis and in terms of the material. Women have always been intellectually disregarded; they remain a material commodity for reification. The advertisements of today demonstrate as much.

We stumble upon the truth as the poetess declares in the next line:

The photograph was taken

the day after I drowned.

Note that as the poetess starts talking about herself she encloses those lines within parentheses. Parentheses are used when a text contains material that could be omitted without destroying or altering the meaning of a sentence. Parentheses may be used in formal writing to add supplementary information. They can also indicate shorthand for "either singular or plural" for nouns - e.g., "the claim(s)"- or for "either masculine or feminine" in some languages with grammatical gender. (Wikipedia).

Therefore, when the poetess talks of herself, she implies the stance of Women in general. Her part in this description of the photograph could be conveniently omitted without marring the perfection of the whole. She functions only as a supplement to this picture of society. Nature(the branch) and man-made objects(the slope of the house ) gain predominance over her. Her gender is not specified, as it is taken for granted.

I am in the lake, in the center

of the picture, just under the surface.

The poetess asserts that people have to look below the surface to locate her, they should not limit themselves to a superficial view of things. The poetess goes on to say it is very difficult to locate her or estimate her size. The woman's identity is uncertain, in place and position. She goes on to state that the effect of water on light is a distortion. Here the light becomes a metaphor for the woman who gives light to others through her service. Water is emblematic of the Patriarchal Society that if it wants can act as a life-giving force.

Light interacts with the water molecules and suspended particles to cause loss of light, color changes, diffusion, loss of contrast, and other effects. A photo taken under water at a one-meter distance is not unlike a telephoto above water at 800 meters distance, both looking bluish while lacking contrast.

A man is actually supposed to make a woman complete. Nevertheless, far from completing her, her perfection is marred by his attitude, treatment, and outlook

© Rukhaya MK 2012

New Guestbook Comments

Very good sir, it is helpful to me. You have posted with comprehensive implications of the poem on August 08, 2019:

Very good sir, u hv a good job

NHL Playoffs Round #1 on July 22, 2019:

This Is a Photograph of Me

Margaret Atwood

1 It was taken some time ago.

2 At first it seems to be

3 a smeared

4 print: blurred lines and grey flecks

5 blended with the paper;

6 then, as you scan

7 it, you see in the left-hand corner

8 a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree

9 (balsam or spruce) emerging

10 and, to the right, halfway up

11 what ought to be a gentle

12 slope, a small frame house.

13 In the background there is a lake,

14 and beyond that, some low hills.

15 (The photograph was taken

16 the day after I drowned.

17 I am in the lake, in the center

18 of the picture, just under the surface.

19 It is difficult to say where

20 precisely, or to say

21 how large or small I am:

22 the effect of water

23 on light is a distortion

24 but if you look long enough,

25 eventually

26 you will be able to see me.)

mi on May 12, 2018:

maybe she was quite fascinated by something

Alexz Constantine on May 08, 2018:

The word 'poetess' is used to mock a bad poet. Nowadays the 'poet' is used for both genders.

yaseen on April 04, 2018:

it is best poem .very related things

Jay on May 05, 2017:

There are too many interpretations to make sense of the poem.

Chandrasekhararao K on November 27, 2015:

It is a good interpretation. very helpful to me.

annie on November 29, 2014:

this was immensely helpful. thank you!

Rukhaya M K (author) from India on April 21, 2014:

@karl-zhang-2010: Thank you, Karl!

Rukhaya M K (author) from India on February 10, 2013:

@anonymous: Thank you.Will read it.

anonymous on February 09, 2013:

I love Margaret Atwood. She is one of the brightest minds of our times. Have you read her retelling of the Odyssey, THE PENELOPIAD? It's great.

karl-zhang-2010 on January 02, 2013:

You, sir, are a literary genius.