Bored by Margaret Atwood is a single stanza poem that reads as a fluid thought (or thoughts) ruminating on a complex experience of boredom throughout the speaker’s life. Within this poem Atwood’s speaker analyzes life and at the end comes to a conclusion about how she has been leading it, committing herself to never again being able to experience it the same way again. This poem was written in 1994 and published in her book, Morning in the Burned House. The full poem can be found here.
Bored Poem Summary
The speaker in the poem is contemplating the life that she has led up until this point and the way in which her husband, or significant other, has been both the driving and controlling force in her life. When the poem begins the speaker gives examples of her partner taking the lead in everyday activities. Atwood gives examples that are more abstract, as well as more physically recognizable. She includes “holding the log / while he sawed it.” As well as sitting in the back of the car, or boat, while he “drove, steered, paddled.” Atwood’s speaker continues on to describe how, while she was not in control of the direction of her life, she would focus on individual details, the “minutiae” of the situation. Such as the sewing on the car seats, or the loam clay on the ground. She then goes on to compare the actions they take while together, him pointing, her looking, and taking turns whistling, as the actions of animals following one another. The poem concludes with the speaker questioning why experiences look “sunnier” than they actually were. How perhaps she was happier then, being bored, like “dogs or groundhogs,” and how if she went back to those times she would no longer be bored. She would want to know, and know everything.
Analysis of Bored
Atwood begins Bored with a strong statement. In this statement, “All those times I was bored / out of my mind” Atwood’s speaker seems to shout, as if to clarify before the reader gets any further how she was feeling. She then continues on to give examples of when she was bored, “Holding the string while he measured,” or weeding a garden that he planted. She is always on the stagnant end of the relationship, he is in motion while she stands still. These examples work as powerful analogies for the place women are traditional meant to hold.
Further along she continues with the metaphor, describing the relationship as being driven in a car, or paddled in a boat. She has no direction over where she is going, someone else is make her decisions for her.
Continuing on, she speaks on how it “wasn’t even boredom” but staring hard. It was “myopia,” or nearsightedness. She was focused intently on her close surroundings. These included, “the intricate twill of the seat / cover” or more simply, the patterns in the stitching on the seats, and the rocks and sad that cover the floor of the car. She also describes the “blackish and then graying / bristles on the back of his neck.”
She continues on to describe the “rhythm” of her life. How “he would whistle,” then she would.
“…Such minutiae. It’s what
the animals spend most of their time at,
ferrying the sand, grain by grain, from their tunnels,
shuffling the leaves in their burrows.
These actions she describes as “minutiae” or small, trivial details. Actions that animals would take as they follow one another, “ferrying sand,” one grain at a time.
Once more he is directing her, showing her what she is supposed to pay attention to. What she needs to see, and in turn, how she needs to react to it. She sees, as he points, the tiny details in her finger. She sees everything around her so intensely and precisely, but is unable to control her own life. That is the frustration the narrator is reacting to. She isn’t bored as much as she is stuck, in the same situation over and over again. Forced to repeat her actions of submission to a dominant partner in every element of her life.
“Why do I remember it as sunnier
all the time then, although it more often
rained, and more birdsong?”
At this point, the author begins to conclude the poem. She asks a direct question, why, when she looks back on these situations she previously described, do they seem so much happier than they actually were? She states this as a way of understanding how she continues to exist in the same scenarios. If she is able to look back on a situation and see it as “sunnier” than it actually was, she will be able to deal with the next day, the next car ride, willingly.
The direct voice of the narrator that confronted the reader in the first sentence comes out again. She states without hesitation or mincing her words, that she could “hardly wait to get the hell out of there to anywhere else.” These sunny memories she had, when she looks on them with a clear head, were anything but. She speculates now at the end of the poem that perhaps back then, before she understood that she was not happy, her life was better. In her boredom, maybe she was happy. As a dog, or groundhog is happy, going about its life without analyzing each situation. She knows now at the end of the poem that if she was placed back in those same situations that she would no longer be bored. She would now know them for what they are. She would know the world and be unable to return to that state of mind where she was content to “[hold] the log while he sawed it.”
About Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is regarded as one of Canada’s greatest living writers. She was born in 1939 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. She grew up reading fairy tales, as well as comic books and mysteries. Her first poems and plays were written at age six. She did her graduate work at Harvard’s Radcliffe College on a fellowship, graduating in 1962. She has won awards including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Governor General’s Award. Her poetry first became popular in the 60’s with her collection Double Persephone. Atwood is well-known in her poetry for understanding social relationships, alienation, and ways of communicating between opposites. Her most famous work, the novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, has become a classic, recently made into a popular television series.