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

Updated on December 10, 2016


The title of Margaret Atwood's "This is a Photograph of Me" is quite suggestive. The title may give rise to several interpretations. The speaker may want our attention to be drawn to the photograph. The fact that she claims that it is her in the photograph, verges on the fact that she looks very different in reality. However, the most plausible interpretation would be that- the general perception or outlook about her was quite different; this was her real self in the photograph. She first goes on to describe 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. Woman has always been intellectually disregarded; she rather remains as a material commodity for reification. The advertisements of today pose as the best instances.

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. (Wikpedia).

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 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, colour changes, diffusion, loss of contrast and other effects. A photo taken under water at one metre distance is not unlike a telephoto above water at 800 metres 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

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    • profile image

      Very good sir, it is helpful to me. You have posted with comprehensive implications of the poem 

      10 months ago

      Very good sir, u hv a good job

    • profile image

      NHL Playoffs Round #1 

      10 months ago

      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.)

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      maybe she was quite fascinated by something

    • profile image

      Alexz Constantine 

      2 years ago

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

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      it is best poem .very related things

    • profile image


      3 years ago

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

    • profile image

      Chandrasekhararao K 

      4 years ago

      It is a good interpretation. very helpful to me.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      this was immensely helpful. thank you!

    • m-k rukhaya profile imageAUTHOR

      Rukhaya M K 

      6 years ago from India

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

    • m-k rukhaya profile imageAUTHOR

      Rukhaya M K 

      7 years ago from India

      @anonymous: Thank you.Will read it.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      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.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      You, sir, are a literary genius.


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