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The text under analysis in this paper is the short story by Margaret Atwood Dancing Girls written in 1977. The major topic of the analysis in this paper is the role of the secondary characters in the development of the theme of absence of perspectives in the life of ordinary people who came to the United States seeking a better life but found no future there. The paper will argue that the language means used to represent secondary characters shape the impression of the hopelessness of the situation but at the same time show the contrast between their outlook of the world and the opinion about it that the major character shares.
Importance of the secondary characters
To begin with, it is necessary to state that secondary characters constitute a substantial part of the plot of the story by Atwood. From the very beginning of the story, it is obvious that secondary characters are disappointed by life as they did not manage to realize what they planned to. The language means used to describe their inner states and emotions are strong evidence of this point: “Finish what you start, he’d say, I didn’t and look what happened to me.” (Atwood, p.91) These lines express not only the emotions of Ann’s father but rather the pain of the whole generation of people who failed their lives due to the wars the Government involved the country in or to their inability of contesting the high aims. Although there is no explicit sorrow or pain in these lines, it is implicitly clear that Ann’s father, one of the secondary characters, is broken by the failures he experienced and wishes his daughter to correct his mistakes at least for her wealth.
Moreover, the hopelessness of the situation is expressed by the author in the further development of the story. The use of negations in combination with the modal verb “can” creates a strong impression of disappointment and pain. Furthermore, such words as “world”, “trouble”, “change” etc. create the atmosphere of confusion as felt by the secondary characters like Ann’s friend from Holland Jetske:
“The trouble with what we’re doing…” she said to Jetske, as they walked towards the library under Ann’s umbrella. “I mean, you can rebuild one part but what do you do about the rest?”
“Of the city?” Jetske said.
“No,” Ann said slowly, “I guess I mean of the world.” (Atwood, p.95)
The dialog itself is the skillful demonstration of the confusion that the modern youth has about their aims and means of achieving in this life. Secondary characters like Jetske are the instruments through which the author tries to render the necessity of the change in society.
Nevertheless, positive trends of the outlook of the world shared by its secondary and major characters are also found in the story, for example when Ann tries to forget all her sad thoughts and go deep into her study as she understands how much her parents rely on her: “Stop it, she commanded herself. They want me to be doing this.” (Atwood, p. 95) Thus, the importance of the secondary characters is stressed by the author once again. Ann sees that her choice to become an architect is not the best one even though she is a top student. However, her mind makes her struggle for the career she chose, and the categoric forms the author uses to describe Ann’s thoughts and talk with herself is the best manifestation of this.
All this shows that secondary characters are important instruments of the author in her task of describing the outlook of the world that young people often tend to share. The lack of perspectives for the future, disappointment in life values, and lack of understanding of certain processes in this life are major topics of the whole story. The main mystery of this work is, however, its title Dancing Girls as far as they can not even be called secondary characters. The images of dancing girls and their appearance in the room of Ann’s neighbor is the most confusing part of the story, and this part leaves the reader with food for thought as for what the author showed by the images of dancing girls in that room.
Atwood, Margaret. Dancing Girls. Anchor Books, 1998.