Literature Annotations


Atwood, Margaret
Rape Fantasies


Genre Short Story (8 pp.)
KeywordsPower Relations, Rape, Society, Women's Health
Summary

Written in 1977, "Rape Fantasies" appears to be a recap of a conversation among several women during their lunch hour, a few of them playing bridge, one--Chrissy the receptionist--reading aloud from a tabloid. When Chrissy asks the question, "How about it, girls, do you have rape fantasies?" the story unfolds with each woman’s response, all retold from the perspective of Estelle, who’s doing her best to deflect the entire conversation by concentrating on her bidding.

The conversation is tragically ironic, moving from woman to woman, Darlene calling the entire subject "disgusting," Greta describing a Tarzan-like scenario, Chrissy describing hers in a bubble bath, when Estelle, ever the voice of reason, reminds them that what they’re describing are sexual fantasies: "Listen . . . those aren’t rape fantasies. I mean, you aren’t getting raped, it’s just some guy you haven’t met formally who happens to be more attractive than Derek Cummins . . . and you have a good time. Rape is when they’ve got a knife or something and you don’t want to" (104).

Estelle then describes her rape fantasy where she deflects her attacker by squirting juice from a plastic lemon in his eyes ("You should hear the one about the Easy Off Cleaner"), but also includes the one where "this short, ugly fellow comes up and grabs my arm . . . [and] I say, kind of disgusted, ’Oh for Chrissake,’ and he starts to cry," which prompts a wave of sympathy in Estelle (106). And there are more, each with Estelle warding off her attacker through outsmarting him ("I’ve just found out I have leukemia"), or talking him out of it.

As the narrative continues, the reader becomes aware that Estelle is addressing someone in addition to the reader--"I hope you don’t mind me holding my nose like this . . . " (107) and that person is probably a man (twice Estelle says, "But I guess it’s different for a guy"). As the story ends, we realize that Estelle all along has been in a bar, speaking to a man she has just met, worrying about the possibility she will be raped by him. "Like, how could a fellow do that to a person he’s just had a long conversation with, once you let them know you’re human, you have a life too, I don’t see how they could go ahead with it, right?" (110). We are left wondering whether all these "conversations" are Estelle’s deliberate inventions, her way of trying to control a potentially dangerous social interaction.

CommentaryThe story has much to offer any discussion surrounding sex, power, and violence. While the comic is laced throughout the story, most often through caricatures such as the blonde receptionist Chrissy, or comments by the narrator Estelle, the nature of the conversations, and especially the framing device make this piece ultimately sobering.
SourceDancing Girls
PublisherMcClelland & Stewart
Edition1977
Place PublishedToronto
Annotated by Wear, Delese and Aull, Felice
Date of Entry 09/18/97
Last Revised 11/17/03