Margaret Atwood’s Male Navigators: Prisons, Power, and Patriarchy


  • Tyler McNew


This is the introduction to my MA thesis on male navigators in Atwood's fiction. Margaret Atwood’s fiction often reveals a power play between characters who seek to abuse other characters for personal gain and those characters who suffer under and/or fight back against that power. Patriarchal societies function much like a prison system, meaning a hierarchy that binds men and women into roles of privileged and unprivileged power. Atwood responds to the patriarchy and structures of binary confinement with her use of the ‘navigator’ in her fiction. Navigators are driven by a need for self-navigation, and they can only help navigate others within the patriarchy if they can successfully navigate for themselves. Navigation requires the fluidity of adopting new roles and breaking out of the binaries that confine wardens and captives. The studied male characters in Atwood’s fiction struggle with their own place and identity within the patriarchal system where they attempt to employ navigation as a means to express and manage their own anxieties. If a navigator can successfully surpass their own anxieties, they can then lead captives out of their captivity and subvert the patriarchy by destabilizing the binary. Navigation captures the idea that men can subvert the patriarchy by adopting an altruistic fluidity more complex than merely solving their own anxieties.