Four Perspectives of “The Bog Man”

This composition was written in my Applied Literary Criticism class where we discussed different ways of analyzing text through the different forms of criticism. For this particular assignment, we were to use the text, “The Bog Man” by Margaret Atwood and use four types to literary criticism techniques to analyze them. We also had to use a certain number of criticism terms and bold each word in the composition.

Formalism/New Criticism

The title itself, “The Bog Man,” by Margaret Atwood, displays a relationship with the text that follows. Could the title be some form of foreshadowing? The title leads one to think that it is a story about an actual bog man, but in reality, it could mean something more. Connor is compared to the bog man a few times throughout the composition. The last paragraph states, “He becomes flatter and more leathery, more life goes out of him, he becomes more dead” (Atwood, 95). The title could also be symbol in the short story. The work’s theme is not really about the bog man, but about how Julie transforms her view of Connor from godly to practically dead.

Atwood’s short story is told in third person point of view with greater emphasis on the protagonist Julie.  It is told using present tense, which is interesting since the story’s setting is set in the nineteen sixties (Atwood, 78). Another question a formalist critic would ask is, who is the narrator? Since the story is not in first person, one cannot say that the narrator is Julie. I would say that the narrator is an older woman, but it is hard to say. The narrator is not the same as the actual writer of the short story.

“The Bog Man” contains two patterns in its text. Religion is mentioned throughout the story. The text states that Julie, the main character, was “looking for someone to worship” (Atwood, 78). The short story also mentions a course called Religious Knowledge (Atwood, 79).  Other words in the text add to this pattern such as halo, saint, superhuman, and even sin. Does this have some significance to the story’s theme or tone?

Psychoanalytic Criticism

Three terms that pertain to psychoanalytic criticism are the id, the ego, and the superego. What’s interesting about this particular short story is that Julie seems to fit the description of all three of these terms as the work goes on. In the beginning, Julie seems to represent the id as she acts on impulse and pleasure by sleeping with her professor, Connor. She practically worshipped Connor both physically and mentally. After Julie finds the photograph of Connor and his family, her mind begins to resemble the ego. According to Dr. Kristi Siegel, an associate professor of English at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the ego is the “conscious part of the psyche that processes experiences and operates as a referee or mediator between the id and superego.”  Julie’s mind seems to wander back and forth between her guilt after seeing Connor’s wife, and her desire to be with Connor. In the end, Julie seems almost disgusted with both herself and Connor which then resembles the superego. What makes Julie’s feelings change for Connor? Maybe her guilt for his wife had some effect, or maybe their difference in age. It could also be that Julie realizes who Connor truly is. Julie’s decision could have been effected by all, some, or none of these possible explanations, but the fact that her conscious told her that the relationship needed to end, resembles the superego. As for Connor, he seems to represent the id more than anything. He also acted on impulse and gave in to pleasure as he sleeps with his student. Towards the end of the work, Connor begs and pleads with Julie to take him back and marry him, despite the fact that he has three children and a wife. What does this have to say about the composition? Julie fits the description of all three of the psyche and Connor seems to only fit one of them.

Reader-Response Criticism

If one to criticize “The Bog Man” using reader-response criticism, one would first ask, who is the narratee? The author seems to be speaking to women as it shows how one woman, Julie, is empowered to leave her lover, Connor. It also emphasizes more on Julie’s point of view than it does of Connor or any other male character. This can all be gathered from one’s literary experience, depending on the actual reader. The literary experience is formed due to one’s identity theme as well.

The ideal reader for this text could be a woman who sees what the character Connor has wrongfully done to Julie. The author writes that “She is no longer a desire for him, she is a duty” (Atwood, 89). The ideal reader, one could say, could be a feminist to some degree. In the beginning, Connor is described as almost god-like, and by the end of the story Julie is practically disgusted by his image. One could also say that the ideal reader should be familiar with the setting of the composition. The time is set during the nineteen sixties, and most of the plot takes place in Orkney, Scotland (Atwood, 81). In order to fully understand everything the author is trying to portray, one must be acquainted with these points.

The text portrays one gap in that the author does not inform the reader directly how Julie’s decision to “break up” with Connor was formed. It infers that maybe Julie had some guilt with Connor being married with three children or that she had second thoughts about their age difference, but where did this sudden decision come from? The last paragraph seems to say that Connor is now almost dead to her. What made Julie go from comparing Connor to a god to being repulsed by him?

Feminism  

            One of the first questions a feminist critic would ask about a work is whether the author is male or female. In this case, “The Bog Man” was written by a woman, therefore may incorporate a female protagonist. The fact that Julie is the protagonist in “The Bog Man” may lead a feminist critic to think that she holds the power throughout the story. Although the story does not begin that way, since Julie was captivated by Connor, the story ends with Julie breaking up with Connor and moving on. Even the first line in the short story emphasizes the female lead, “Julie broke up with Connor in the middle of a swamp” (Atwood, 77). Even though Julie was the one who ended the affair, she never quite forgot Connor. Her life almost seemed to evolve because of him as the text states that Julie retells the story of Connor, but leaves certain details out of her tale. “The Bog Man” portrays Julie’s story over the rest of the characters in the work. One line in the composition states, “The story has now become a story about her own stupidity, or call it innocence. . . .” (Atwood, 95). What does this line mean? It combines the words “stupidity” and “innocence” into one sentence. What does this infer about Julie’s character?

“The Bog Man” seems to favor the logic and ideas of females, since the protagonist is female. The story also, however, portrays women in a negative way. The character, Julie, is perceived to be the “needy” individual in the relationship. In the beginning, she is said to be “looking for someone to worship” (Atwood, 78). Julie then, over time, begins to see Connor as “the universal child’s nightmare, the evil violent thing, fanged and monstrous, trying to get in at the door” (Atwood, 93). What does this say about Julie? One minute she worships Connor, the next she is disgusted by him. What does this infer about women in general? In the end, Julie seems to be the powerful figure in the relationship when she breaks up with Connor leaving him pleading for her to return.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. “The Bog Man.” Wilderness Tips. O.W. Toad, 1991. 77-95. Print.

Siegel, Kristi. “Introduction to Modern Literary Theory.” Homepage – Dr. Kristi Siegel. 27 Jan. 2007. Web. 23 Oct. 2011. <http://www.kristisiegel.com/theory.htm&gt;.

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