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‘Journey to the Interior’ by Margaret Atwood

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‘Journey to the Interior’ by Margaret Atwood is a text that uses physical or material things to demonstrate an inner journey. It uses the metaphor of the Canadian landscape to explain the journey of life and the inner journey of self-discovery. The title ‘Journey to the Interior’ implies of a journey from the exterior reality to the inner depths of the human psyche. In historical times the title would imply the discovery of a new land, exploration into the unknown that could involve danger. Similar idea is presented in this poem, Margaret Atwood is delving into the mysteries of the human mind, uncertain and apprehensive “many have been here, but only some have returned safely”.

‘Journey to the Interior’ begins with the persona speaking to the audience in first person, which creates intimacy between the persona and the responder.The first stanza talks about similarities between the human psyche and the environment. ‘There are similarities…’ introduces the poem straight away; let the responder become curious and wonders to fill the empty. By using physical analogy, Atwood suggest the same theories apply in the journey within. For instance, a Prairie is a metaphor for having no obstacles or guidelines in life. It is an open expanse of land where you have many choices in where you go on that piece of land. It is the same notion when it comes to inner journey. Atwood also suggest that the journey within is not easy as people thought of it, ‘cliff is not known as rough except by hand’, the journey within ‘ is not the easy going from point to point.

A dotted line on a map’ implies a similar idea with the romantics that human potential cannot be mapped; science cannot explain human conditions. Although that the process of discovery is not easy, but there is happiness and joy at the same time. ‘Light and dark at all time’. At the end of stanza one, Atwood suggests when it comes to the discovery of one self, journey is the destination. When people explores an unknown area, they do not even know where they going therefore ‘There are no destinations apart form the journey it self’.

The second stanza shows the differences between the interior journey and the physical journey. This journey is defined with “the lack of reliable charts;” and with small distractions. This stanza introduces some strange images to the responder; “your shoe among the brambles under the chair where it shouldn’t be”, “a sentence crossing my path”, these are distractions preventing her from exploring her inner self. She knows she must not take her journey too serious because “the danger: many have been here, but only some have returned safely”. Here she makes a allusion to Saliva – a writer who suicide ‘, showing how others have tried to explore their psyche and as a consequence have become lost in themselves and their inner psyche.The persona shows her uncertainty in the aside, ‘have I been walking in circles again?’ this aside is an attempt to exit the dark and depressive world that is surrounding her, the world of herself.

Consider Atwood as a female writer who had divorce experience, another reading of the poem could be that ‘journey to the interior’ is about the difficulties of women to achieve self-awareness and achieve their own identity. This territory has been described as ‘ a poor country’ implies the female capacity for self-exploration has not been able to be developed.

The interruption to her journey by domestic items could be symbolic of how female domestic responsibilities can interfere with self – knowledge. The ‘shoe’ may be seen to represent the traditional cleaning, tidying role most women undertake. Whilst the ‘white mushrooms and the paring knife’ seem symbolic of a cooking role. The mushrooms are ‘lucent’, shining, seeming to beckon the persona from her self – reflection. The aside “have I been walking in circles again?’ echoes the often heard cry that women’s traditional domestic chores are recurring and never end. The ‘sentence’ crossing her path that she was ‘sure I passed yesterday’ seems symbolic of the repetitive requests of family in the domestic lives of women. This use symbol of traditional women’s role shows the ties and demands that make it difficult to remain focuses on the journey of self-exploration.

The final paragraph shows journey’s difficulty. The persona realises nothing is reliable to direct in an inner journey. Traditional navigational tools will not work- ‘A compass is useless’ and the sun is too ‘erratic’ to be of used. Even speaking is ‘pointless’ as there seems no one to respond. The text also implies that physical journeys are actually easier than journeys within. Without any guidance form maps, sun or even other people, people on internal journeys are alone. “Vacant wilderness” is used in the poem suggesting people are alone when making their decisions as in a vacant wilderness no one will hear you calling.

This poem is full of visual imagery, referring to the landscape and environment. These images are dark and unusual which adds to the uncertain and eerie atmosphere of the poem “I move surrounded by a tangle of branches, a net of air”. The sound imagery throughout the poem is erratic, with no pattern or structure, which reflects what the poet is saying that the inner and subconscious cannot be charted and explained. There is no flowing rhythm through the lines, the poet’s thought continues throughout lines which disorientates the reader, the rhythm is also unsettling. Another example at the author’s desperation to escape the seriousness of her inner world; “whatever I do I must keep my head.” This is a dangerous journey ” I know it is easier for me to lose my way forever here, than in other landscapes”. The persona realises the only thing can protect her is that a calm and rational mind.

Not only does the journey matter over the arrival at the end, but also, ‘journey to the interior’ is implying that some journeys may never get to an ending. This also proposes the fact that endings are not achievable without the journey, and, may not even come to pass if the journey is ongoing.

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