In today’s society of judgement and assimilation, many individuals who stray morality from the path of normality are often shunned for their differences. In Margaret Atwood’s ‘Lusus Naturae’, the discrimination that is placed upon those who are different can be seen through the eyes of the narrator. ‘Lusus Naturae’, which is Latin for ‘freak of nature’, depicts an ill woman who scares people in her old-fashioned community. Despite the fact that she is a person with thoughts and feelings, the narrator’s family segregates and neglects her; unfortunately, her village does the same.
By exploring the societal and literary conventions of judgement and ableism, Margaret Atwood presents a gendered perspective on the ways that people's actions have a direct impact on others. Following the evident undertones of discrimination, the ultimate tones in this story are mystery and dipare. Destined to live a life of isolation, the protagonist constantly doubts her self worth; for her condition serves as a stain on the respectability of her family.
In the three paragraph excerpt from ‘Lusus Naturae’ that this paper will focus on, the ill protagonist is told that her family will now tell everyone that she is dead. Because of the protagonists unknown illness, her family has become untouchable; the only way to stop this is to convince the general public that she is no longer around. “They’d told the neighbours I had a wasting illness, a fever, a delirium. The neighbours sent eggs and cabbage. -- It was decided that I should die. That way I Kypreos 2 would not stand in the way of my sister, I would not loom over her like a fate. -- He told me God had chosen me as a special girl, a sort of bride, you might say. He said I was called on to make sacrifices.” (Atwood 262) In this passage from the short story, the protagonist is forced to cope with the fact that she is better off dead. Not only in this passage, but throughout the story she faces attacks on her own humanity even though she continually defends her innocence.
The passage ultimately relates to the story as a whole because it showcases just how easy the people around the protagonist mistreat her. Another major theme in this short story is isolation. Because of the perspective and form that this story is written in, first person truly captures the emotion within the protagonist; for a third person narrator would struggle to embody the ostracization and loneliness of the character. The story also extremely mysterious. The doctor previously mentioned in the story must know what illness the protagonist has, but the family chooses to believe its a curse. Here, Atwood not only condemns the negative way that different individuals are treated, but she also shows that ignorance consumed the protagonists family. If the family acknowledged that the protagonist had a legitimate disease, then the stigma revolving her issue would cease to exist. She would not be a freak of nature, and she would be helped.
Also, because Atwood chose to leave the disease up to the reader's imagination, there are many routes for interpretation. By leaving the disease up to the reader, the story relates to many other forms of discrimination such as ageism, sexism, racism and many others. People of all backgrounds who have been mistreated in any way resonate with this story. Atwood also successfully makes the story heartbreaking in many ways. The narrator’s own mother views her as a monster, and only the cat wants to spend time with her. As the story continues after the selected passage, the narrator becomes more animalistic and true to the way that people see her. She even believes that the people at the end who want to kill her are justified. “I am of a forgiving temperament, I know they have the best of intentions at heart. I’ve put on my white burial dress, my white veil, as befits a virgin.” (Atwood 265)
Unfortunately, she leaves the story with form of delusional optimism, which makes the conclusion even more heartbreaking as Atwood intended. Many literary devices are also used to express this tone, such as imagery. The protagonist vividly describes the world around her with great detail, and the reader is exposed to an extremely archaic and heartbreaking society. By exploring the societal and literary conventions of judgement and ableism, Margaret Atwood presents a gendered perspective on the ways that people's actions have a direct impact on others. The discrimination that is placed upon those who are different in ‘Lusus Naturae’ can be seen through the eyes of the narrator. This short story stays true to its mysterious sad tone, while also shedding light on other forms of discrimination.
Atwood seeks not only to humanize our notions of neglect and abuse, but she also seeks to shed light upon the fact that every action has an equal reaction. If people are constantly neglected and shunned from society, discrimination will continue at a high rate. This is partly because of todays society of judgement and assimilation, in which many individuals who stray from the path of normality are shunned for their differences. After reading ‘Lusus Naturae’, one can’t help but wonder; Is the protagonist the monster that she is described as, or is the village monstrous for the way that they treat her?
The neighbours sent eggs and cabbage; from time to time they visited, to scrounge for news, but they weren’t eager to see me: whatever it might be catching. It was decided that I should die. That way I would not stand in the way of my sister, I would not loom over her like a fate. “Better one happy than both miserable,” said my grandmother, who had taken to sticking garlic cloves around my door frame. I agreed to this plan, I wanted to be helpful. The priest was bribed; in addition to that, we appealed to his sense of compassion. Everyone likes to think they are doing good while at the same time pocketing a bag of cash, and our priest was no exception. He told me God had chosen me as a special girl, a sort of bride, you might say. He said I was called on to make sacrifices. He said my sufferings would purify my soul. He said I was lucky, because I would stay innocent all my life, no man would want to pollute me, and then I would go straight to Heaven” (Atwood 262)