Fall of Man Depicted in Atwood's Backdrop Addresses Cowboy
The sexual politics of the man-woman relationship, or more specifically the sexual exploitation of women by men, is a clear concern in Margaret Atwood's "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy." Although the oppressor-as-male theme is by no means an original source of poetic inspiration, Atwood's distinction is that she views the destructive man-woman relationship as a metaphor for, symptom and symbol of, bigger things. From the vantage-point of feminine consciousness, Margaret Atwood empahsizes the "backdrop" as being not only the woman, but also the land and the spiritual life of the universe; the "cowboy" is both a man bent on personal gain (possibly an American based on Atwood's strong anti-American sentiments in her novel, Surfacing) and an emissary of technological progress.
The structure of the poem logically supports the theme of conflict and "imperialism" in that it is clearly divided into two sections or "camps." The first four stanzas offer a description of "you", the "righteous and heroic" cowboy who brutalizes life without creating new life. The perspective shifts then from predator to prey in the final five stanzas as "I", presented as victimized woman and exploited nature, "addresses" her antagonist. The tone or mood of "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy" also undergoes a change after the first four stanzas when the reader enters the tragic, joyless experience of one who is paying the price of "slaughter and desecration." At this point in the poem, it seems futile to consider whether or not the price should be paid and the metaphoric man-woman tension remains distrubingly unresolved. In terms of form, "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy" is written in open (org...
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...esecrate", the emphatically placed word of the climactic line in "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy", emphasizes again the "backdrop" as being not only the woman, but also the land and the spiritual life of the universe. As an emissary of technological progress, man has committed a sacreligious act against nature and humanity and his "fall" embodies the fall of the spiritual, the historical and the rational.
In Margaret Atwood's poem, then, the troubled man-woman relationship is symptom and symbol of a greater alienation within humanity. Man's past and present curelties to human, natural and spiritual life are expressesed metaphoricall in terms of a cowboy "winning the West" on a movie set, against a backdrop "supporting" his heroism. "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy" offers a vision that is both desolate and conscious-expanding but it does not present answers.
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