Margaret Atwood's Story of Mistreatment by Society in Lusus Naturae

Essay details

Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.

In society today, young girls and women battle between perfecting their image fit society standards and finding their own identity in this world. These social and beautification standards have been around for centuries, leaving women to question their true identity and place in society. Margaret Atwood’s “Lusus Naturae” (which is Latin for freak of nature), portrays the inner struggle of a young girl whose body morphed into a creature she doesn’t recognize. The underlying tone in the story of how women are portrayed in society by their looks seems as if society had drove the young girl crazy. If she was pressured to live up to the standards of her parents and in the image of her sister, perhaps she lost her identity at a young age. The dark undertone of the wording used to describe the young girl looms over the entire story like an overcast shadow that never clears. These shadows are what the young girl is forced to lurk in, as she does not fit into the mold of what society wants her to be. Atwood explains the young girl’s memorable life experiences in a past and present tense, which leaves the reader feeling intrigued and questioning how bad the girl must look for the people in her life to treat her this poorly. There is no definitive explanation of how the girl acquired her new appearance, despite having a doctor from out of town come to the house to examine the girl. They say it is a rare disease and the girl cannot recall the medical term for her condition.

Essay due? We'll write it for you!

Any subject

Min. 3-hour delivery

Pay if satisfied

Get your price

There is a disturbing acceptance by the girl that she must place the feelings of her family before her own. Her misfortunate situation is everyone else’s burden and curse. The family tries to rationalize and place blame as they question how this uncomfortable circumstance could happen to their family. The only affection she feels in her ungraceful solitude is from the family cat. Her father, who is caring from a distance, seeks answers discreetly to not draw attention to the family secret. The father is the first to grow distant, as Margaret Atwood in “Lusus Naturae” writes: “I no longer nestled into the crook of his arm, however. He sat me on the other side of the table. Though this enforced distance pained me, I could see his point.” (2). This statement made by the girl is the first indication of the acquiescence in a lifetime of isolation the girl faces. The mother tried desperately to fight the demon that was overtaking her daughter, going to great lengths so much as to drown the demon out. Her mother always had the best intentions, but the girl always knew she was a lifelong burden to her mother. She compared herself as “a hangnail, a wart: I was hers.” (4), as Atwood described the way the girl was stuck to her mother. This guilt weighs heavily on the girl, and she wants to help her family any way she can to alleviate the burden on them.

After the family realized that there was no cure for the girl’s ailment, they decided it was best for her to die. The family could then live in peace, and the sister would be able to find someone to marry her. The family arranged for a fake death, where they placed her in a casket to play dead, looking beautiful like an angel in a white vail and dress. This scene in the story ties in with the idea of how society can make women feel they must cover up their “flaws” to be accepted and perceived in a way that is universal to their tastes. The color white disguises the darkness that consumes the girl, on the outside. Once the girl “dies”, she is finally able to live free and explore herself and her surroundings without distraction of how others are perceiving her. The darkness of the night is without judgement, and the shadows hide her presence. She was free of the guilt of disrupting people’s futures and was almost happy living in the present, which suggests that even though she is still accepting of her appearance affecting the lives of others, it still affected her negatively before her “death”.

When the father and grandmother had passed and the mother had a chance to sell the house, the girl encouraged her mother that she would be fine without her. The girl was left to wander about the shadows of the night to feed herself and pass the time. By this time, the young girl was comfortable in her solitude and still accepting of her situation and not wanting to burden others. One night she witnessed a man and woman in the outskirts of a forest, expressing love for each other. The primal way they acted with each other led the naïve girl to believe they were just like her. The irony in the girl believing that they were just like her, was that she was just like them, in her heart. She longed for love without knowing what love was and was feeling more open to the idea of exploring love with another individual. After the woman left the man alone in the woods to sleep, the girl had built enough courage to express her heart to the young man. All the man saw the monster over him, and it was at that moment that the family secret was no longer a secret. Again, this enforces the idea of society always having a judging eye, without any consideration for the feelings of anyone that doesn’t have an outwardly appearance comparable to their standards.

From a very young age, the girl has seen the effect that greed and lack of empathy can have over people because people mask their true intentions when surrounded by superficial appearances. The girl’s looks have allowed her to view people as they really are, in a very cruel reality that doesn’t seem fair for a young girl to have to endure. The village, including her sister and her sister’s husband, came looking for the “freak of nature”. Although the townspeople are coming for the girl, she still believes they have the best intentions at heart. She donned her white funeral outfit that made her look angelic, dressing for the occasion and once again accepting that she is a burden to society. She is hopeful that the outfit will create a diversion and they will see her as a human being and not a monster. Her words have no validation if she were to try to explain to the townspeople that she is a human being, thus she only has her semi-opaque veil to help aid in her defense. The only creature that showed her unconditional love was the cat, and as Atwood writes in “Lusus Naturae”: “I’m afraid it’s bad news for the cat. Whatever they do to me, they’ll do to him as well.” (6) Afterall, the cat is a beast like her, but loved unconditionally like her as well. This suggests that there is an inward battle going on within the girl. She knows she doesn’t fit society’s standards of what she should look like, but she knows she is beautiful and full of love on the inside. The girl assumes that they will only see the cat as a beast, and not a loving creature, such as herself. This is what society has conditioned the young girl to believe is the only thing that matters in life.

At the end of the story, and her life, the girl finally thinks of her future. The girl is hopeful that she will find comfort and relief in heaven after she dies. Atwood writes in “Lusus Naturae”, “Perhaps in Heaven I’ll look like an angel. Or perhaps the angels will look like me. What a surprise that will be, for everyone else! It’s something to look forward to.” (6). Her optimism throughout the story of her life is commendable and encouraging. She is never angry, nor vengeful against her family or society. The girl’s capacity for love beyond her mistreatment by society and her own family is rare, just like her illness that overtook her. Margaret Atwood flawlessly interpreted the ways society can have detrimental effects on women in “Lusus Naturae”. Throughout the story, Atwood portrayed the flow of emotions of the young woman in discovering her feelings, inside and out, from feeling confused, to confident, and then noble at the end by accepting her fate and still forgiving those that will do her wrong. The story ends with a wonderful example for women of all ages to always accept yourself, and to still have compassion for those who cannot see you in the light that you shine from within. In the end, all that matters if the good in your heart, and the kind consideration you show to others.  

Get quality help now


Verified writer

Proficient in: Literature

4.8 (345 reviews)
“Writer-Justin was a very nice and great writer. He asked questioned as necessary to perform the job at the highest level. ”

+75 relevant experts are online

More Lusus Naturae Related Essays

banner clock
Clock is ticking and inspiration doesn't come?
We`ll do boring work for you. No plagiarism guarantee. Deadline from 3 hours.

We use cookies to offer you the best experience. By continuing, we’ll assume you agree with our Cookies policy.