Half Hanged Mary

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Resource Pack for: Half Hanged Mary by Margaret Atwood

Created by Anneke Smit

Context

This resource is intended to be used as a starting point for teachers and students looking at bigger themes and ideas in literature. This text could be used to engage students in the study of literary themes and contexts, as well as supporting students to thing about how characters are revealed to us and how our own setting and context impact our choices.

Margaret Atwood is a Canadian author and poet of international renown. In 2020 she is probably most well known for her literary work The Handmaid’s Tale which was made into an award winning Netflix series. She is regaled in literary circles as a feminist writer and her texts can help us learn much about how women are and have been treated – or even, in the case of The Handmaid’s Tale – may be treated in times to come.

Half Hanged Mary invites us to become an intimate, yet biased, spectator in what must have literally been a hellish experience for one of many woman, and some men, during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692/1693. Written by Atwood in 1995, and as many of her other works, this poem can also serve as a voice for the voiceless and help us question who has the power and control in a situation. Its stanza layout chronicles an hour by hour experience, from 7pm to 8am, further asking us to question through what lens we see the ‘other’, how that treatment of the ‘other’ shapes both them and us, and finally what does hope come from?

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