The Dual Storylines of Bored by Margaret Atwood

Is it read-worth? To be perfectly honest, almost all poetry is worth a read. Most poetry is short enough that it only takes a portion of time and each line is bursting with meaning. This poem is no exception to that rule. Bored is absolutely worth reading and, more than that, it’s worth looking into more deeply.

The Dual Storylines: An In-Depth Analysis

One of the greatest, and most terrible, characteristics of Bored by Margaret Atwood is the fact that it has the potential for a large variety of meanings. The words used are nuanced and, depending on how they are read and pieced together, multiple meanings can be derived from the one poem. Even the form of the piece, as a free-form poem without any stanzas, encourages readers to develop several different interpretations. The lack of separation between different sections of the poem allows the themes to blur together. It is easier to derive multiple meanings when certain ideas are not confined to a singular space or train of thought. This was extremely clever because it allows one piece to hold sway with multiple audiences, connecting them by one central theme of regret. 

These multiple storylines are somewhat different from one another. For example, Atwood could literally just be describing a boring day she remembers from the past. More likely, she could be describing her memories of time spent with her father doing chores. Atwood’s language, if applied to that meaning, suggests that she wishes she had appreciated her time with him more. On the other hand, the male character is not specifically defined to be her father. He could have been her lover. As a result, Atwood could be expressing that she regrets allowing him so much control over her life. She regrets taking the backseat and wishes she had asserted herself more. In either case, with either male figure defined as such, she expresses a sense of regret. She wishes she had lived her life to the fullest, had enjoyed each moment, and had defined her own course. 

To follow the first storyline, in which the male figure is defined as Atwood’s father, the poem is a happier, fond poem. She remembers doing chores with her father as a fond memory of him: “Why do I remember it as a sunnier, / all the time then, although it often / rained, and more birdsong)?” (25-27) She enjoyed spending time with her father. However, she simultaneously wishes she had enjoyed it more in the moment. She had spent their time together wishing she was elsewhere instead of recognizing its worth. She was shortsighted by failing to see the big picture, by failing to remember that one day her father would grow old and die, far before she would, and that time spent with him should be cherished: “… and then the graying bristles / on the back of his neck” (18-19). Her biggest regret in this story-line is not having the wisdom to appreciate her childhood. If she could go back, she wouldn’t have wasted their time together with boredom and would have, instead, enjoyed the little moments.

Yet, if you define the male character as her lover, the tone of the piece is completely different. While she still remembers the time spent with him fondly, as viewed in the line where she describes it as a sunnier time, she wishes she had made better decisions. Her short-sightedness, in this case, is more unforgiving and, if she could, she never would have stayed in the relationship or, vise-versa, would never allowed him to have so much control over her life: “Now I wouldn’t be bored. / Now I would know too much” (33-34). Atwood feels as if she were out of her mind for allowing him to make her decisions for her: “All those times I was bored out of my mind” (1-2). The lines: “Or sat in the back / of the car, or sat still in boats, / sat, sat, while at the prow, stern, wheel / he drove…” suggests that she wishes she had moved past her mindless boredom and taken more control (8-11). He had controlled the direction of their lives. Her shortsightedness, her myopia, was failing to recognize that she had so little sway until it was too late, and they had both aged (14). At the end of the poem, she compares herself to animals to suggest the stupidity of such a decision: “… It [boredom] is for dogs or / groundhogs” (31-32). Dogs, usually characterized by obedience, and grounds, who are pests, are an apt representation for the way this made her feel. If she could go back and make different choices, the piece suggests that she would.

In any case, with either story line, the key idea is relatively constant. Margaret Atwood wishes she had appreciated life more. She wishes she had taken the time to enjoy the little moments and, at times, wishes she had asserted more control over her life. With her father, it would have gained his respect while also showing him that she cares and wants to put in effort similar to his own. With a lover, it could have changed the entire direction of her life. This familiar emotion makes the poem universally applicable – no matter the preferred or inferred direction of the story behind it. 

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