Margaret Atwood’s “Letter to America


I.                    Margaret Atwood’s “Letter to America” implies drastic changes in the operation of the American government from the early twentieth century until the second half of the twentieth century and possibly into the next century.

a.       Atwood’s Canadian/American background requires her to be diplomatic when discussing these topics, and her opinions may be based on some validity, but her reasoning for them is not valid.

II.                 summary of Atwood’s essay

III.               Atwood is a Canadian writer with American ties.  She is obviously tied to America by her own country’s standards, as they are a connection to the US both economically and militarily.  If any country were to wage war on the US, this would drastically affect Canada as well.  Her implied thesis that America has changed for the worse and could be adversely affected if changes are not made soon, affects all Americans and perhaps Canadians as well. 

a.       Her clipped tone implies that she is more than just a little angered by the changes in the US; however, she does not come right out and say so.  She is more diplomatic than that, wanting to keep her ties between the two countries secure.

b.      Her simple sentences, her use of syntax, also affect the reader.  She makes her points very short and straight to the issue at hand.

                                                               i.      “You’re gutting the Constitution” (164).

                                                             ii.      “You’re running up a record level of debt” (164). 

                                                            iii.      “You’re torching the American economy” (164).

IV.              Atwood implies that the United States has changed its diplomatic status and government organization from the times when she enjoyed watching movies about the US and hearing music from the US.    

a.       She does have some very good points that seem to ring true on a first read of her “Letter.”  She begins with a happy, reminiscent tone while discussing the past, and she changes her style to an aggressive, offensive attack as she discusses the present state of America.

                                                               i.      She mentions the positive things that America is known for, She mentions great literature from America, Great movies, movie stars, and playwrights

                                                             ii.      She mentions problems with the Patriot Act that exist today – all of which seem to be valid points that go against our Constitution

                                                            iii.      She does point out her belief that our tactics in Iraq are misled.

V.                 Atwood then mentions a few negatives like God on our money.  She acknowledges that this has been going on since the beginning of the establishment of America.  Her examples tend to indicate her purpose, which was to show the changes America has gone through over the years resulting in out “city on a hill” becoming a slum and our “democracy a sham” (Atwood 165).

a.       Her language discussing the way America has fallen is descriptive and meant to embarrass the American reader.

b.      She also uses a clipped, choppy tone to discuss main points.

                                                               i.      The gutting of the constitution (164)

                                                             ii.      Running up a record level of debt (164)

                                                            iii.      Torching the American Economy (164)

c.       Her points seem a bit awkward in her use of examples. 

                                                               i.      What does God on our money have to do with us as a nation?

                                                             ii.      Also, what does Mickey Mouse and movie stars have to do with economical and governmental stability.  We are still the land of opportunity, and we still have many great movies, movie stars, authors, modern books, etc.  These things should not be what we base our value of America on.

d.      Atwood seems to neglect the negativity throughout the years.  If her purpose is to show the changes, she needs to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.  The pop culture of the past should be compared to the pop culture of now.  And, the foreign policy and economics of the past should be compared to those things of today.  Examples are:

                                                               i.      The great depression

                                                             ii.      9/11 as an invasion in the US – and our reaction to it

                                                            iii.      Military tactics – America’s aggressiveness prior to Iraq           

                                                           iv.      Slavery – and the fact that it was not discussed realistically until the 80’s in textbooks

VI.       The audience of Atwood’s “Letter to America” is the readers of The Nation.  However, those readers may include any America, young or old, especially including those involved in politics.

            a.   The language and syntax she used was specifically to get those in power to make changes to improve the America of now and return it to the America of the past, a place that Atwood said used to be respected.

i.          Atwood uses a simple sentence structure to reiterate her points on the downhill fall of America.

ii.          Her thesis also focuses on the audience intended because she is trying to show specific Americans that the past was better and America is falling out of glory in other countries’ eyes.

a. This is especially true when she discusses the city on hill becoming a slum and the democracy a sham

b. However, her original use of the pop culture of the past hurt her thesis because she was not comparing similar events.                

VII.      Atwood’s essay is effective in a first read.  It states many points that the average American or Canadian might agree with; however, once the essay is examined at a deeper level, one can see that different issues were overlooked or eliminated so that the author could make her points.

e.       The author has a few valid points that one would agree with, but one may find that she needs to develop them more fully if she wants her entire audience, Americans and Canadians, to agree with her. 

                                                               i.      She needs to acknowledge events like the great depression. 

                                                             ii.      She needs to consider the reasons for such actions, like the Patriot Act due to the terror threats of 9/11.

                                                            iii.      Atwood also needs to realize that as times change, so does the economy

                                                           iv.      She failed to fill in all of the background information, thus her argument was ineffective.