The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood made me think of two separate memories from high school.
1.) People were afraid of Margaret Atwood because she was some crazy-haired lady out to stir up trouble, and her writing wasn’t accessible or enjoyable (most probably because of her Feminist message). What a LIE!
2.) My History teacher (the best teacher I’ve ever had and I hope i can some day be like) used to ask us all the time when we were looking at civilizations: Would you like to have security and safety and no freedom, or would you like to have freedom but no guarantee for safety and security?
These two ideas continued to swirl around in my head as I read her latest novel.
In the novel, Stan and Charmaine are in the midst of an economic recession and are desperate to survive and looking for a life that is a little easier than living in a car. Luckily for Stan and Charmaine, society has dreamers and schemers wheeling and dealing to help out these poor souls. This echoes with me: I am living in a city hit hard by the oil price bust. There are a lot of people desperate and feeling helpless. So, Atwood asks of her readers, which is better? Blind trust in return for safety and quality of life, or freedom and a lot of unknowns? Stan and Charmaine decide to buy-in to the latest scheme, for life: become part of the Consilience community, where for one month they live in a house and work, and for one month they live in Positron prison. Once they say yes, the fun begins!
Since high school, Atwood has become one of my favourite authors. I read her poetry (The Journals of Susanna Moodie) in University and got hooked. Reading The Edible Woman was eye-opening and I think I talked for days after reading The Handmaid’s Tale. I am aware that Atwood has written a lot and in different genres, but I had no idea how much until I looked at the list at the front of The Heart Goes Last. I’m sure she wouldn’t love me saying this, but I believe that Atwood is a prophet, here to make us see ourselves and to warn us of what will come next if we don’t reflect and make changes. (And after Googling Atwood is a prophet, I see that I’m not alone in my belief.) In The Heart Goes Last, Atwood looks at what happens when greed and power work together to take advantage of the vulnerable and desperate, but she also takes a look at our current society’s idealization and obsession with sex, technology, and staying young and brings them to a terrifying, yet plausible, conclusion.
Yet one of the things I love most about this novel is that it ends with hope. People will always criticize and question. People will always fight to save humanity. It is hard to risk everything to save others and to do what is right, but as Atwood writes, what is the consequence of not acting?
“If you do bad things for reasons you’ve been told are good, does it make you a bad person?” (Atwood, The Heart Goes Last)
“Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honour everyone.” (1 Peter 2:16-17)