Rat Song by Margaret Atwood Analysis

Table of Content

”Rat Song” is a poem written by Margaret Atwood and is part of Selected Poems from 1976. What is interesting about the poem is that it is written from the point of view of a rat. And by looking through the eyes of a rat (which many people see as a primitive and inferior animal) the poem shows how judgemental, hateful, hypocritical and “unnatural” the human race is. The poem furthermore advocates that humans are a much greater parasite than the rats they are so desperately trying to get rid of.

How the rat is viewed by the human
The first theme this analysis would like to discuss is how the rat is viewed by the human in the poem. It is clear from the very beginning of the poem that the human described is not too fond of the rat. Just be looking at the first two stanzas it is obvious that the human is trying to get rid of the rat (Atwood 1976, lines 1-7). What is interesting here is that the rat does not understand why the human wants to kill it. The rat can see no apparent motivation for the human to kill it, and it states that: “All I want is love, you stupid / humanist” (Atwood 1976, lines 14-15). I think what Margaret Atwood is trying to say here is that all animals and creatures deserve to be respected equally.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

Why are cats and dogs for example friends of humanity, when rats and other animals are seen as enemies? Historically, rats have a tradition of being bearers of diseases (and this is also mentioned in the poems fourth stanza), but as an example dogs have also been heavily associated with diseases in the past, so why choose one over the other? I believe Margaret Atwood’s point here is that the human race is very selective and hypocritical, and this is represented by the unfairness showed to the rat in the poem. All the different ways the human is trying to kill the rat, shows how merciless and brutal the human nature is. First it is a rifle, then it is flashlight, and then later on poison (Atwood 1976, lines 2, 3, 5). It is as though to say that the human race will limit itself to nothing, in order to achieve its goal. This could be a reference to some of the atrocities the human kind have committed throughout history to achieve what was thought by some to be a justified goal. Just like killing the
relatively innocent rat seems justified to the human in the poem.

The human race as a parasite
As mentioned in the thesis statement, ‘parasite’ plays a central role in the poem, and even more so in this analysis. It is only referred to once in the poem (in the start of the fourth stanza), but there are other places in the poem with indirect connection to the word. The whole fourth stanza is actually a statement about, how the human race is a parasite and not the rat. I read this stanza ironically, because it starts with “Right, I’m a parasite,” (Atwood 1976, line 16), and it is almost as if the rat is saying “Right… If you think I’m a parasite, you should take a look at yourself!” There is actually a lot of similarities between the values humans attribute to rats, and the values the human race is possessing.

For example, the whole disease and parasite thing could be transferred to humans, if you looked at the subject from the point of view of nature: The human race is a parasite that not just lives of off mother earth, but also exhausts the place it inhabits. Humans are spreading like rats (if I may say so) and they are destroying all the natural elements around them to make themselves more comfortable. It is as the rat ironically mentions in the poem “I take without asking and make nests in your cupboards”, which – although a feature of some animals (rats included) – can also be said about the human race (Atwood 1976, lines 18-19). The difference between the rats and humans is that while rats only “share” the places humans live in, humans destroy the natural conditions when they move into new territories, so that other races are unable to life there (or their living conditions are made more difficult).

Point of view
The point of view is as announced in the thesis statement that of a rat, and I believe Margaret Atwood does this for a variety of reasons. It makes it easier to describe the human race and its flaws, if you take the point of view of for example an animal. This is in literary terms called ‘prosopopoeia’, and it is precisely what Margaret Atwood uses in her poem “Rat Song”. In other words, Margaret Atwood ‘takes on’ the role as a rat to portray the human as an object rather than a subject.

The objectification of  humans are also illustrated in that the human in the poem is only described in general terms; we cannot tell whether there is talk of male or female human, therefore it seems to be about the human race as an entity (Haynes 2011, page 42). This is also a sort of dehumanization of the human race as the humans appear as cold and distant possessing no remorse or compassion. Both the prosopopeia and the general description of humans in the poem draws the reader into the poem. The last part of the poem ends with: “It’s your throat I want, my mate / trapped in your throat. / Though you try to drown him / with your greasy person voice, / he is hiding / between your syllables / I can hear him singing.” (Atwood 1976, lines 24-29). This is meant to be a passage where the reader is supposed to make self-reflective thoughts, because it almost directly addresses the reader. The ‘you’s in the first half of the poem (referring to the human that wants to kill the rat) melts together with the ‘you’s in the last half of the poem. This makes it more difficult to view the human character in the poem as just distant and fictional; instead, it makes the reader look at him- or herself and reflect over whether all the ‘you’s in the poem is not actually referring to the reader (Haynes 2011, page 87).

Reference list
Atwood, Margaret. 1976 (Selected Poems). Rat Song

Haynes, Poppy. 2011. The Two-Faced Trope: Prosopopoeia in Denise Levertov, Margaret Atwood and Louise Glück. (A Thesis Submitted in Fulfilment of the Degree Masters of Arts at the University of Otago, Dunedin). http://otago.ourarchive.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10523/1668/HaynesPenelope2011MA.pdf?sequence=1

Cite this page

Rat Song by Margaret Atwood Analysis. (2016, Nov 12). Retrieved from


Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront