Photograph 51 and The Penelopiad Comparative Essay Example


Storytelling is a universal language, personal yet so relatable, it allows human's to be granted a greater connection through the act. The texts  'Photograph 51' and 'The Penelopiad' both display the influence it can have on the audience. Protagonists; Rosalind Franklin, a 1950s Jewish scientist and Penelope from the Odyssey, are used by their authors Anna Ziegler and Margaret Atwood to display how storytelling can be used in not only a positive way but also negative. The authors do this by giving a voice to the women who in the past have had their legacy's shrouded by others (majority men). With the texts being told after both protagonists deaths, it is used as a way to reflect. The Penelopiad is told from the perspective of Penelope allowing her to 'spin her own thread'. In contrast, Rosalind's story is told in recounting not allowing her to have the same power as Penelope. This power Penelope holds allows her to negate stories about herself she would prefer not to hear.  However, Rosalind never decided to speak out initially, in turn allowing men to damage her reputation. Therefore, without this power, she was unable to defend herself before her time was up.  The authors giving voice to once silenced women shows the impact story telling can have. 

Anna Ziegler and Margaret Atwood both take on protagonists who have passed away, giving these characters voice allows reflection. In Penelopiad, the underworld is used as a place for Penelope to finally tell her own story after being silent in past, warning other women ''Don’t follow my example! I want to scream in your ears – yes, yours!''(Atwood uses a technique of referring to the audience, making the reader feel more engaged at point). As gossip about her infidelity picked up momentum, Penelope became tongue-tied. Similar to Penelope, Rosalind was also tongue-tied, A Jewish woman, in a male dominated industry, she struggled to stand out at points and became victim of the misogynistic environment. When asked by Wilkins if she would like to work in a partnership - ''Surely that would suit you?'', ''I don’t suppose it matters whether or not it suits me, does it?'' Displaying that Rosalind is all but used to never really having her way. Throughout the novel, Zeigler often compares Rosalind to the character Hermoine from the play ''The Winter's Tale''. After attending a showing of the play she states that Hermoine ''didn't stand out'' in comparison to the male lead. This draws resemblance to Rosalind never being able to stand out among her 'male leads' (Wilkins and Watson.) In Comparison to these two, her other colleague Gosling is often used as a voice for the late Rosalind, giving the audience insight on her career and highlighting parts of her story that were once overlooked thus showing the oppression she faced. Whereas Atwoods characters (Penelope and The Maids) obtained their feeling of oppression years after their deaths, having time to reflect.  This unfairness towards women is a key theme in Atwood and Ziegler's texts, displaying the hardships and turmoil both protagonists had to face in their male dominated environments.  

From the beginning, Penelopes life had always been coloured by male supremacy, her first taste of it being when her own father, Icarius – King of Sparta, attempted to kill her. Penelope didn’t remember Icarius' attempt of taking her life but through the stories she was told growing up she developed an uneasiness around him . Consequently showing how powerful stories can change viewpoints and relationships. Penelope not only lacked a relationship with her father but also her mother, Portrayed as distant and cold to Penelope the only advice she gave to her was to 'be like water', ''water always goes where it wants to go'' - a metaphor for Penelope to always get what she wants. This advice makes Penelope ''spin a thread of her own'', using deception to get better personal outcomes. For example when she says she will marry one of the suitors when she is finished 'weaving', but Penelope undoes her progress each night trying to buy time for her husband's return. This shows how she is able to be independent and fight to survive in a world where she is disadvantaged. Rosalind shows these characteristics too, refusing to collaborate and wanting to be self-reliant. This strong desire for independence comes from her years of being disregarded by men in her field – never standing out. Ziegler lets Rosalind step out of the stereotype to prove she can work at the same standard as the males in her field.  

Atwood and Ziegler are story tellers themselves, conveying their perspective on; The Odyssey and Rosalind Franklins' career. Their language and narrative style plays a major part of the connection their texts can have with an audience. Atwoods language is ever changing, some moments coming off brash and humorous then contrasting into deep and grieving. She uses The Maids as casual narrators, entering the text fairly frequently, usually with a comedic poem or short comments offering a different perspective on a situation in hand. In comparison, Ziegler goes with a more flowing and consistent monologue style, retelling Rosalind's story. Ziegler stated, ''The people I write are people who are really trying to do their best.'' This is highlighted by the characteristics of independence, determination and perfectionism that Rosalind shows time and time again in Photograph 51. A similarity that both these novels share is the reason behind why they were written, both Atwood and Ziegler shared the opinion of their protagonists being under appreciated in the original telling of their stories. Which through the power of voice they give to these characters, they can depict a new side of the story to their audience, in future opening up for even more alternate point of views/endings.  

Atwood and Ziegler show how storytelling can be used as a powerful tool, positively or negatively. Their takes, present once undervalued and flawed protagonists and allow them to shine in a misogynistic landscape. The gift of voice not only shows the impact it can have on an audience but also how it is able to shape one's identity - Showing that there is always more than a singular side to a story. This enforces the idea to the reader that everyone, no matter how suppressed and unheard they have been in the past, they have a story to tell. 

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