Since the beginning of time, women have often been objectified as frail, beautiful, sexually alluring creatures, with no other object or design but that of enticing men. The Siren Song, by Margaret Atwood, addresses the way in which women use this stereotype of their own sex to their advantage in attracting men, feigning vulnerability, making a man feel unique, calling out to him for help, and then trapping him. This is depicted through the way in which the speaker addresses the reader; she first engages them with the mystery of the Siren’s song, alluring them further with the promise of a secret she will tell to only them. Similar to the way in which a woman would attract a man, the speaker feigns weakness, calling out to the reader for help, and then entrapping them. The Siren song alludes to the myth of Ulysses, by Homer, in which Sirens are the woman-headed, bird-bodied creatures that sit on their Island, and lure sailors to their death with their beautiful song.
According to The Odyssey, Ulysses, aware of the danger as his ship approaches the Island of Sirens, gives his shipmen wax to put in their ears, and to prevent himself from steering toward the Island and crashing into the deadly rocks which surround it, has his shipmen tie him to the front of the mast. In this way, Odysseus and his ship successfully passed the Island of Sirens. This allusion to the mythical sirens is evidently a microcosm for the power of feminine allure, an idea which Atwood satirizes in The Siren Song. Throughout the poem Siren Song by Margaret Atwood, imagery is used to emphasize the feminist subtext in this poem. For example, in the second stanza, the speaker uses imagery to describe the danger of the song, the alluring and irresistible siren song which eventually leads to a sailor’s death. “Forces men to leap overboard in squadrons even though they see the beached skulls.” This quotation clearly shows the power that the song has; its beauty makes the sailors leap overboard and rush to the island, disregarding the dangers such as “beached skulls”, and the rocks surrounding the Island.
The speaker is warning the reader of the danger they will face if they allow themselves to be lured in, just as how the sailor was warned before reaching the island. As the poem carries on, the reader becomes further engaged by the speaker, feeling allured and anticipating the secret which the speaker promises to reveal. In the fourth stanza, the speaker attempts to be creating a bond with the reader, flattering him/her, and personalizing the poem as though she is talking specifically to the reader, further engaging the reader by saying, “will you get me out of this bird suit”? I will tell the secret to you, to you, only to you”. The “bird suit” refers to the myth of Odysseus once more, in which the sirens were described as three creatures who were a part woman and part bird. The speaker further goes on to cry out to the reader for help, evoking in the reader a feeling of pity for the speaker, as the siren song would in the sailors, causing them to rush eagerly towards their death. Further on, imagery is used to describe the beauty of the siren, “squatting on this island looking picturesque and mythical”. This displays the Sirens as objects for display, designed to lure men in, just like the beauty of a female. Finally, pity is evoked in the reader for the speaker once more with the lines “with these two feathery maniacs.
I don’t enjoy singing this trio, fatal and valuable in this way, the speaker cunningly convinces the reader that she is vulnerable and in need of the reader’s help, eventually luring them into their destruction. Throughout these various uses of imagery, Atwood depicts there is a sexual/feminist connotation behind the myth of the Siren. Imagery is used to emphasize the theme of feminine allure, the power female possesses in attracting men and having their bidding done, simply by feigning vulnerability and promising a secret in a satirical tone. In addition, with the use of words like “picturesque and mythical” as the speaker describes herself, Margaret Atwood suggests that women will always be objectified as sexually appealing, physically beautiful things, but also satirizing the way in which women often use this predicament to their advantage.
In this poem, Atwood satirizes not only the sirens from Homer’s myth but the way in which women use the generalization that they are frail, sexually appealing creatures, to their advantage, attracting men with their beauty and helplessness. This is shown through the way in which the speaker entraps and engages the reader by inviting them in, singling them out as a unique individual, calling out to them for help: ” I will tell the secret to you, only to you ” ( lines 19-20), just as a siren would sing to the sailors, and a woman would attract a man. The speaker tricks the reader as a siren would the sailors, by engaging them with the promise of a secret, then entrapping them further as she feigns vulnerability. The speaker puts on an almost desperate tone while they are speaking specifically to the reader in the third through to the seventh stanza, as we see words such as “will you get me out?” “I don’t enjoy” “a cry for help”. These further make it evident that the speaker is trying to engage the reader by playing the role of the distressed, vulnerable female.
Satire is emphasized with the shift in tone in the last stanza to a condescending or patronizing tone when the speaker says “it is a boring song but it works every time.” (Lines 26-27), signifying that the speaker has trapped the reader, no longer feigning helplessness. The patronizing tone is emphasized further, because the speaker is also bored with their station in luring sailors to their death, and readers to the end, through the use of words such as “Alas” and “boring song”. Evidently, the speaker has trapped countless readers in the same way, alas, “it is a boring song but it works every time”. Atwood also suggests a feminist tone in the poem, by portraying the sirens as powerful, cunning creatures, who can attract men simply by feigning vulnerability, calling out for help to the sailors, making them feel unique and needed, and leading them to their deaths.
Although the poem alludes to the myth of Odysseus, the dominant theme in Siren Song lies underneath it; it is the power of female attraction. Atwood is suggesting and moreover satirizing, that through the ages, women have been stereotyped, objectified as creatures who are only physically beautiful and insipid, that they are designed only for the sexual pleasure of men, but however, some women, like the sirens in Homer’s myth have used this stereotype to their personal advantage in a way that is empowering to females. Such a theme reflects the media of today; in movies, music and television, women are seen using their physical beauty to attract males, convincing them to do their bidding. Such displays have had a profound effect on the females of today’s youth, who subjugate themselves to the same type of predicament. Atwood is evidently aware of this underestimation of the female mind and satirizes the way in which women use this stereotype to their personal advantage.