Margaret Atwood’s “Bread” carefully crafts several scenarios in which most people easily relate. All the while however, Atwood sets up the reader to be overcome with emotion and empathy. Through bread, Atwood stealthy argues that we have an abundance of comfort and life while others are suffering throughout the world. That American’s turn a blind eye to what is happening in the world today. Eventually, Atwood leads the reader to a place of guilt and self blame. The reader is shamed, feeling at fault for their part in world starvation and war.
Through ordinary aspects of everyday life such as having a slice of bread, lavishly topped, Atwood achieves her argument. The “Occupy Wall Street” could easily be compared to this essay. The affluence of the 1% is oppressive to the 99%. However, as we point fingers at billionaires and their crimes against the poor and the decreasing size of middle class earners, we must recognize the larger picture. Wealth and greed has been sought after for centuries and continues today. We cannot ignore our complacency about those in the world whom are truly starving, and dying in war.
The first story shows the reader that we live in abundance with an example of bread. “You don’t have to imagine it, it’s right here. ” (Atwood) Atwood shows the reader this example of bread to convince us of our attitude towards the simple things we take for granted. We have so many choices; bread is nothing to most people. In the first story Atwood shows our complacency with “white bread, in the refrigerator, and a heel of rye you got last week, round as a full stomach then, now going moldy. ” (Atwood) Most people could care less if food spoils because it is easily replaced.
We live in the richest country in the world; we have so many things within our reach. We have many conveniences that other’s do not. We have super markets full of food with a variety of options. We have clean water and all the necessities of life and beyond. This symbol of bread is clearly developed throughout the stories as her argument is made. Following, Atwood asks one to imagine a famine and then to imagine the bread again. How would the famine affect someone? Most know how bread affects us, but at the same time “Both of these things are real but you happen to be in the same room with only one of them. (Atwood) It is difficult however, for most to imagine famine. This leads the reader to questions about the bread they have as reflected in the first story. Atwood continues to describe which most find sickening: “She is starving, her belly is bloated, flies land on her eyes; you brush them off with your hand. ” (Atwood)
This scenario guides readers to imagine being in the same situation. While the reader might think it is merely an example, Atwood is clearly demonstrating real life. At this point in the essay readers are full of emotion and understanding of making a hard decision about bread. You are carrying a cloth a filthy one but a damp one. You also carry a piece of bread the last one in the house, which you saved for days you two are starving, you have to decide what to do with it. If you give it away to your sister, or maybe you could try and find something else to eat outside “but outside the streets are infested with scavengers and the stink of corpses is everywhere. ” (Atwood) Now the bread we see in the first story is clearly something the reader cannot take lightly. The bread that was left in the refrigerator molding could be someone else’s lifeline.
As Atwood continues with the third story of being in a prison, bread is slowly changing from sustenance into something dark and dangerous. In prison those in control bribe you with bread you easily accept to keep your silence. If you said anything to any of your friends they would die. You decide to not say anything that night because of that bread, “They always choose the night. You don’t think about the night however, but about the piece of bread they offered you. ” (Atwood) The bread is now a reason for others to die. It now promotes killing and manipulation to gain ones cause.
The bread, which the reader first saw as commonplace is now an atrocious symbol of torment and death. This bread “is subversive, it’s treacherous, it does not mean life. ” At this point in her essay, Atwood has shown the reader two symbolic meanings of bread. The bread that most have in their refrigerator that is comfort food, something we have plenty of; is also bread that causes pain and devastation. Bread can mean life but also means death. In Atwood’s fourth story she illuminates a correlation of the bread in the first story, with the bread in the second and third story.
Atwood demonstrates this connection with a fairy-tale story of a sister whose greed allows her sister and children to suffer. Atwood defines the two sisters, “One was rich and had no children; the other had five children and was a widow. ” (Atwood) The widow is poor and cannot afford even a mouthful of bread for her children and asks her sister for a “hand-up”. The sister begs for some bread for her dying kids but is denied by her sister when she says, “I do not have enough for myself,” and drove her away from the door. (Atwood) The rich sister’s husband comes home from work and is hungry, goes to cut his piece of bread and out pours red blood. This image clearly exemplifies the bread as a horror story.
The reader now realizes that the symbolic bread of comfort and the anguish death bread are one in the same. The individual who decides to look away from other’s anguish and struggles are metaphorically the rich sister. These “rich sisters” are those with no compassion who would rather satisfy their self than help another. As the author asks, “How could somebody do this to their sister? Atwood is actually asking the reader to question why anyone could do this to another human being. The reader can’t imagine doing this to his or her own family. At this point the reader is fully aware that the “rich sisters” of this world need to take responsibility for their wrong doings. However, in the last story the reader realizes that Atwood is not only talking to the “rich sisters” of the world, she is also talking to the reader. Atwood points out the selfishness of all. She continues on to demonstrate the reader denies the coldhearted ways the wealthy treat the poor.
The author portrays “a loaf of bread floating above a table in your kitchen. This table is completely real no tricks or parts that convey to you how the bread got there based on the table. You would expect strings or some mechanism to be attached to the bread. Under this bread is a blue cloth this too has no strings attached to it. You figure that a quick swing of your hand ought to prove this true. Standing there looking at the bread thinking that it is some cheap trick or illusion, Atwood states “you proved it by passing your hand through. Atwood is explaining that starving and suffering are really happening and the reader has tried to ignore it. The starvation is not an illusion that we have to imagine it is real. This is something that Atwood wants the reader to understand and acknowledge. This is a rude awakening to the reader by the author. Atwood’s various descriptions of bread show the reader that suffering and death is what greed has accomplished. Greed has led people to war with others to gain control and wealth while others are ravaged in their wake. The rich become richer while families and children starve to death or die in war.
The wealthiest insatiability has left other countries in poverty. Those with their many homes, private jets and parachute packages have ruined our country and others. As we have seen our economy crumble, other countries have followed. This greed has gone from one conflict to another, with the rich warping reality to continue on their path of destruction. Maybe even some of the readers have explained away their part in the suffering and death of others. The rich rationalize their crimes to better sleep at night. One would think these people should never sleep well at night with blood on their hands.
However, we cannot ignore what is happening, whether rich or poor. America and other countries cannot remain in a state of disillusionment. Greed, wars, and conflicts are targeting our world. While many sit in their homes with luxuries, atrocities are being committed. Many want to deny what is happening and look away. Some may argue that we live in a country of freedom and individuals are responsible for their own success or failure. How can others be coldhearted and turn a blind eye to those suffering? How can we as a free country deny reality? We cannot deny the claims made in Atwood’s essay as human beings.
The human race is responsible for the world. We cannot rationalize away starvation and death. Much less blame those starving for their situation when war has reaped havoc on their country. We living in a democratic country have a vote and a voice, we can be heard, we can make a difference. Atwood’s most challenging statement is that we “don’t want to know, imagine that. ” When we avoid the news and spend our money lavishly we are ignoring the faces of starvation and death. As Atwood symbolizes bread, we should follow her argument. We as countries should share the “bread” with all humanity.