Fall of Man Depicted in Atwood's Backdrop Addresses Cowboy
The sexual politics of the man-woman relationship, or more specifically the sexual exploitation of women by men, is a clear concern in Margaret Atwood's "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy." Although the oppressor-as-male theme is by no means an original source of poetic inspiration, Atwood's distinction is that she views the destructive man-woman relationship as a metaphor for, symptom and symbol of, bigger things. From the vantage-point of feminine consciousness, Margaret Atwood empahsizes the "backdrop" as being not only the woman, but also the land and the spiritual life of the universe; the "cowboy" is both a man ...view middle of the document...
" The free verse is effective because without rhyme and consistent meter, the varied lengths and particular rhythm of each though encourages the reader to pause only for punctation. Perhaps the creation of a relatively structureless poem intentionally suggests by Atwood that no adequate structure exists to make the images of pain and death meaningful.
The literal meaning of the first stanza is not difficult to grasp as it introduces an actor portraying a cowboy against a western backdrop on a movie set. "Starspangled" suggests his costume is less than authentic and is worn more for commercial appeal than factual representation. "The almost-silly west" and "paper-mache cactus" perpetuate the artifice of the western movie by setting a scene which relies on props and phony imagery. Even the actor's "porcelain grin" is weak and easily broken. The implicit reality of this stanza is that the cowboy is a symbol of Americanism. he represents the triumph og man over nature, the "taming" of the west. the cowboy embodies imperialistic strength and he is idolized for his heroism by millions of people who are influenced by mass-media propaganda, namely, the western movie.
The second stanza, though only two lines in length and undifferentiate by lack of punctuation, carries a powerful message. the cowboy's virtue is directly compared to the dangerous, criminal potential of a bullet in a simile describing the destructive reality behind the gentle facade of the American hero.
The cowboy continues to play his "role" in the third and fourth stanzas by quickly shooting those who oppose his sense of justice and who stand in the way of the westward expansion of the frontier. Just as the fearless cowboy rides off intot he sunset at the conclusion of an epic western movie,so does mention of "the sunset" in "Backdrop Addresses Cowboy" assure the reader that the cowboy will "live to fight another day." Figuratively, the "villains" are the natural, human and spiritual obstacles in the way of man's technological progress and imperialistic ideals. Atwood uses the verb "blossoms" in an ironic sense to describe the abundance of potential victims for the cowboy's exploitation. Ironic sarcasm is also evident in the "heroic trail of desolation" man leaves behind in his conquest of nature. The images evoked from this "slaughter" are of death without rebirth and of tragic and unnecessary waste.
In the second half of the poem, stanza five continues the description of a sterotypic western movie, set with its "cardboard...