Literature Annotations


Atwood, Margaret
Hairball


Genre Short Story (18 pp.)
KeywordsAbortion, Disease and Health, Freedom, Grief, Individuality, Loneliness, Love, Mourning, Narrative as Method, Ordinary Life, Patient Experience, Power Relations, Psycho-social Medicine, Rebellion, Sexuality, Society, Surgery, Women's Health
Summary

This well crafted story concerns a contemporary woman in her thirties who undergoes significant personal losses; in fact, she seems to lose or lack an identity. Over the years, Kat, an "avant garde" fashion photographer, has altered her image, even her name, to suit the situation and the times. She has had two abortions and "learned to say that she didn't want children anyway."

The story begins when Kat undergoes surgical removal of a rare and peculiar ovarian tumor containing hair, teeth, bones (the clinical term is a dermoid cyst ); Kat dubs it "hairball " and stores it in formaldehyde on her mantelpiece. We learn that Kat's relationship with her married lover is going sour, that he will replace her as creative director at work. She fantasizes that she has given birth to "hairball" who she sees as the "warped child" of their failed relationship. Physical symptoms accompany Kat's growing emotional confusion. Hairball becomes the vehicle for an ultimate bizarre act reflecting Kat's personality disintegration. She has gone from being Katherine to Kath to Kat, to K, to being "temporarily without a name."

CommentaryThis story addresses the emptiness and superficiality that is pervasive in some segments of contemporary Western culture, and particularly it addresses the impact of the culture on the modern woman--the woman of the eighties and nineties. The narrative tone is almost satiric and masterfully reflects the lifestyle portrayed. The piece shows how women may subvert their own needs and best interests by the way in which they interact with men. Further, the story reminds us that abortion and surgery on reproductive organs can never be taken lightly, by patient or by physician. The implications, even when not consciously acknowledged, may be profound.
SourceWilderness Tips
PublisherDoubleday
Edition1991
Place PublishedNew York
Alternate SourceWilderness Tips
Alternate PublisherBantam
Alternate Edition1993 (paperback)
Place PublishedNew York
Annotated by Aull, Felice
Date of Entry 12/09/94
Last Revised 11/17/03