Duality is a key concept in many of Margaret Atwood’s works. “It Is Dangerous To Read Newspapers” comes with no surprise when the juxtaposition of time eras are presented. The poem addresses the atrocities of the Vietnam War that occurred from 1959-1975. The work is focused on the adult perception of the war by the speaker. The 9 stanzas that structure the poem are a continuous construction of the horror elements creating an overall image of the war and the inability of the speaker to participate in it, in any shape or form. Atwood uses the juxtaposition of childhood and adulthood, furthermore she uses diction connoting violence and destruction to convey the powerlessness of humans over a situation that was caused by them.
Firstly, Atwood employs a common technique, that of duality within the poem by strongly juxtaposing opposing views. For instance, the first two stanzas refer to childhood. This is indicated by the use of past tense, and reference to childhood games such as “stepping on the cracks”. The connotation of childhood is ignorance and innocence although that innocence is corrupted with the last two lines of the first stanza in which the speaker mentions that the “hasty pits were filling with bulldozed corpses”. The use of such harsh terms are employed by the child because that information was obtained from the newspapers. By having read the newspaper and discovering the reality of a dangerous situation, childhood ignorance has been put aside and terrifying reality is put forth. Atwood further demonstrates in what manner reading the newspaper is dangerous when she refers to the game of “stepping on the cracks” but instead of ‘breaking your mother’s back’, it “detonated red bombs”.
The parallel existence of a simple, harmless game, mixed with a life threatening weapon highlights a child’s perception of the situation. It could be assumed that the speaker refers to the bombs as red because the newspaper are filled with that specific color as it is symbolic of communism, which was being imposed upon Vietnam. In the third stanza, there is a shift in time periods. “Now I am a grownup” indicated that the speaker will have a alternated perception of the war and will provide the audience with different responses than she did as a child. Atwood additionally, uses juxtapositions within sentences to create a sense of disruption to the audience as the speaker herself is disturbed by the events. “My good intentions are completely lethal” and “I reach out in love, my hands are guns” define the imagery of destruction. Atwood contrasts a non quantifiable and intangible matter with a purely destructive tool or concept. By doing so, the author highlights how an adult is able to reflect upon an atrocious battle that is, in essence overly destructive.
Secondly, Atwood uses war diction and diction connoting powerlessness to convey the speaker’s feelings towards the war. The use of words such as “corpses”, “smoke”, “jungles are flaming” evoke strong emotions in the over the speaker who feels powerless over the situation. Atwood creates a dramatic contrast between this inhuman battle for life and the speaker’s tranquil life although agitated conscience. The war diction is employed to establish a horrific image of the war and reach out o human feelings of hate towards the battle and desire to reduce the pain and violence. Atwood draws attention an essential concept that defies the audience’s reflection upon the Vietnam war. The speaker suggests that perhaps sitting in a chair “as quietly as a fuse” could have made her “the cause” of the disturbance of peace in the world because with every moment that passes by and she is unable to take action against mass killings, unfortunate innocent people die. The contrast between war and powerlessness is highlighted in every stanza with the use of strong was imagery indicated by the word choice connoting these ideas.