Discuss the use of various literary devices used in Margaret Atwood’s essay, ‘Attitude.’

The essay ‘Attitude’ by Margaret Atwood is originally a convocation ceremony’s speech given by her to the graduates of the University of Toronto on June 14, 1983. Sharing her insight about life, Atwood has used humor as a tool to explain to the students that they aren’t yet prepared for the life right ahead of them, but that it’s all about the attitude they exhibit which will either make their life great or turn it into a terrible ride.

Expressing uncertainty which the graduates are about to face, Atwood says that “ejection” is a better word for what they use the term ‘convocation’, as the students will be ejected from the relatively safe walls of the college and will be thrown into an uncertain real world where they will have to carve their own path.

Alerting the audience, Atwood says, “I’m here to tell you that its an armpit out there. As for your university degree, there are definitely going to be days when you will feel that you’ve been given a refrigerator and sent to the middle of the jungle, where there are no three-pronged grounded plug hole.”

The entire stated quote is full of humour and serves its purpose right.

Atwood then launches into the story of preparing her speech, giving a few examples of topics she considered bearing the graduates with, in the most humorous bits of hopelessness, like, the futility of everything she had learnt in college, silly theories on writers and writing too.

Atwood says, “…a liberal arts education doesn’t exactly prepare you for life. A preparation-for-life curriculum would not consists of courses on Victorian Thought and French Romanticism, but of things like how to cope with Marital Breakdown, Getting more for your footwear dollar, dealing with stress…”

Hence, Atwood affectively uses humor to add to the pathos of her speech. There comes a sense of credibility since she and her audience, both are the graduates of liberal arts, hence, the speech becomes all the more effective.

Along with humor, these examples are an anecdote which seem to come to life with the use of the humorous tone. Mentions about Victoria College, Northrop Frye, the mistakes of taking Home Economics instead of Typing, etc. are a few examples of anecdotes.

Atwood, makes a satirical remark and says, “…I thought, I should expose glaring errors in the educational system, or compile a list of things I was taught which are palpably not true.”

The element of humor is ever prevailing in the essay ‘Attitude.’ Her reference to thick wrists of writers like Dickens and Melville, spindly fingers of Emily Dickinson, the falling of women hair after baby birth, are all facts narrated in the humorous tone.

Stating the importance of one’s attitude in life. Atwood suggests that, it is how we perceive things in life and how we react to the rising circumstances before us, is all that matters. Atwood’s reference to blood, spilled milk, etc. are perfect examples to motivate the fresh graduates to be aware of the practical world they are about to face which is not so welcoming. Hence, its only their attitude which will help them sail through the rough high tides.

Another literary device which has been used in the essay is Repetition. In order to be more effective in conveying the theme of ‘right attitude’, Atwood has repeated the words to convey the thoughts that ‘right attitude’ and the ‘will to bring change’ are the only essentialities of leading a fulfilling life.

Atwood concludes, “You may not be able to alter reality, but you can alter your attitude towards it…” This, Atwood believes, will paradoxically alter the reality altogether. One just needs to have the right attitude and the will to try. The best of everything in life is awaiting for all.

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