Raping The Willing In The Waste Land

Margaret Atwood expresses her view of love in the wasteland through her short story “Rape Fantasies”.  Within the piece, women discuss an idea brought forth in a magazine article that states women fantasize about being raped (618).  They relay their own fantasies to each other, and the narrator chimes in with her humorous “rape fantasies”.  The concept of love in the wasteland is birthed through the women discussing their actual desires in accordance with the magazines article, showing that their lives are so empty that they dream of forced love as a means to spark some sort of being into their existence.  The other women in the lunchroom play up the idea of being raped as almost a positive thing, whereas the narrator sees through the article and the discussion, and realizes that the “rape fantasy” ideology is oxymoronic, that rape has to be something that’s unwanted.


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The narrator begins the story by listing ways that the media is force-feeding the discussion of rape to its readers (618).  She uses a sarcastic tone when describing the constant discussion of rape, stating “You’d think it was just invented.” (618).  She obviously sees through the media’s use of shock to pull in readers, making fun of their constant technique of using a taboo subject for attention.  Though the narrator does in fact view rape as something negative, she sees the ridiculousness in how magazines and television are starting to implement it more and more, not with the actual purpose in mind to better the wasteland society, but to garner a wider audience and turn up more of a profit within the decrepit society. 

            Once again, the narrator tries to express her lack of interest in the over-emphasized discussion of rape, by changing the subject in the story when someone asks “Do you have rape fantasies?”(618) to her table during the course of a lunch break/bridge game.  After the questions posed, she goes on to discuss the bridge game she was involved in as a means to show she wanted to keep going with the game and not have a rape discussion.  When one of the bridge players shows interest in the question, the narrator acts upset that the bridge game was ruined, stating “the damage was done.” (618).  This almost seems as if the narrator views everyone around her as almost mindless, being windswept in such a “typical” type of conversation in the era, so much so that she can’t even finish playing the bridge game which she sees as way more important.  This shows the effect that the subject of rape has on the society.  It has the potential to stop everything going on and grasp hold of all interest, allowing the narrator to see how lost the people in her surroundings really are; that there’s no importance glued to the simple things, it has to be something disturbing to hold dominion and any sort of relevance in the wasteland. 

            The absurdity becomes more illuminated when the women start discussing the ideology of rape fantasy.  All the while, the narrator often chimes in with her Holden Caulfield-esque critical quips, demeaning the women through their conversation or personal appearance (“She’s a receptionist and she looks like one.” (618)).  The feel of the speaker is that she believes that she herself is the enlightened one amongst women who are no better than savages in the wasteland, scoffing at them through her humor (that only she herself finds funny) and feeling as if she’s the only one who has everything figured out.  She finds complete ridiculousness in their conversation about all women having a rape fantasy.


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            The women try to make it seem as if they don’t think too much of it, and try to retain a sense of modesty.  One woman, Darlene, claims that she thinks it’s disgusting and turns to do something else, yet soon joins back into the conversation with interest (618-19).  Darlene is obviously trying to keep up appearances, yet soon disregards the initial notion to be swept away in her under-the-cover fascination with the conversation.  This shows a pathetic attempt to retain dignity in a lifeless world.  The fascination of rape seems to shed light on the inner construct of the women who are brooding over the idea.  Their lives are so valueless to themselves that the desire of rape, something completely torturous, seems appealing.

            As the narrator points out, the women’s fantasies are not that of rape, but lust for a sort of one-night-stand type of occurrence, planned happenings involving handsome men.  The narrator expresses towards the end “those aren’t rape fantasies.  I mean, you aren’t getting raped , it’s just some guy you haven’t met formally who happens to be more attractive than Derek Cummings.”  (620). This statement offers her personal disdain against the scenarios the women fantasize about.  All of their “rapes” that they fantasize about consist of idea looking men.  One woman, Chrissy, explains a sensual encounter involving her in a relaxing bubble bath.  The narrator sees through the phoniness the women portray and shoots them down, as merely lusting for a night of passion. 

            This clearly shows the corruption of the wasteland, and how void the women’s lives are of any true substance, basically claiming that they want to be “raped” in order to have feeling.  Love seems to be the only purpose to them, and they’re willing to go to extreme lengths to obtain it.  Though the narrator criticizes them for their fascinations with rape, her own fascinations are flawed in themselves.  Within her fantasy, she conquers the rape by twisting the situation around.  She does so by having the rapist’s zipper become stuck (621), she is a kung-fu expert (623) and falls in love with a rapist who has a mutual case of leukemia (624).  These farfetched cases of rape are almost equivalent in absurdity to the women who fantasize over the rape.  It shows that she yearns for the extremes.  In the case where she falls in love with the rapist, it displays her hidden hope of finding love in the wasteland to add purpose to her life, meaning she has the same dreams that the other women have, just in a different way. 

                The story as a whole is a depressing commentary on what society has become.  Rational thought and reason have fleeted for corrupt fantasy.  Seemingly, the only way for these women to find meaning in life is within a corrupt and flawed ideology.  Their lives are so lost, that they find false purpose in a dreamlike circumstance of empty love within the horror of rape.  What’s worse is the one character in the story that seems to have her head on her shoulders (the narrator) also succumbs to false terms with her “rape fantasy”.  This portrayal exhibits a culture that is lost within a daydream that sacrifices reality for unrealistic hope in impossible fulfillment.