quainted with the notion of sacrifice.n”As long as Nate does his share withnthe house and children, or what they’venwearily agreed is his share, he can helpnhimself to any diversion he chooses.nBowling, building nnodel airplanes, fornication,nit’s all the same to her.”nNothing is theirs in this marriage, butnalways his or hers, even the children.nElizabeth seems convinced “she conceivednthem through parthenogenesis,”nand Nate would like to think they “hadnsprung fully formed from his forehead.”nNate is the liberated man, the uxoriousnman. Trained as a lawyer, he nownmakes chic wooden toys to sell in boutiques.nHe does most of the cooking andnchild-rearing, at least while Elizabethnrecovers from the funk her lover’s suicidenhas left her in. (She resents thatnact as a personal injury; after all, shensimply treated him the way men treatnwomen.) He thinks of himself “as a lumpnof putty, helplessly molded by the relentlessndemands and flinty disapprovalsnof the women he can’t help being involvednwith.” Even his two childrennare female, and he is uneasy in thenthought of their becoming women.n”They will demand brassieres and thennreject them, blaming both needs onnhim.” He never uses the possessive innintroducing Elizabeth or Lesje, andnwhen he tells Lesje he would like to havena baby “by” her, he quickly and self-consciouslynreplaces the offending prepositionnby “with.” In short, Nate is thenkind of man feminism encourages andncreates—only to be disappointed withnhim when he fails to satisfy its dividednwishes.nLesje is the timid, unassertive woman,nan appeaser. She works in the museumnas a paleontologist. She is a dedicatednand capable scientist but does flunkynwork and tolerates her superior’s condescendingnattitude toward women. Inngraduate school her roommate hadnshamed her into joining a women’sngroup, but she had been more interestednin her science classes than in feministnissues. “Now she feels it might havenbeen useful to have listened more care­n14nChronicles of Culturenfully.” She spends her free thoughts innprehistory, observing dinosaurs from antree. In this daydream realm she is mostncomfortable. It is a world before manhence,nI suppose, the novel’s title. Shenis not sure she cares whether the humannrace survives or not. “The dinosaursndidn’t survive and it wasn’t the end ofnthe world.”nThere is a good deal of sexual interactionnin the novel. Sexual intercourse isnengaged in for a variety of peculiar psychologicalnreasons —for power, as andeath wish, to carry out self-deceptivenfantasies, etc. But it is never performednfor such a boring and unattractive reasonnas genuine love seeking unselfish and responsiblenunion and procreation. Here,nas elsewhere in Atwood’s fiction, satisfactorynman-woman relationships arenabsent.nIn the end, Elizabeth realizes “thatnNate in general is not necessary.” “She’snbuilt a dwelling over the abyss, butnwhere else was there to build it.”” Naten”will lose himself among the apathetic,nthe fatalistic, the uncommitted, the cynical;namong whom he would like to feelnat home.” And Lesje understands thatnNate is not so important, even thoughnshe has, in a desperate desire to controlnhim, allowed herself to becomenpregnant.nThis hopelessness about personal relationshipsnis matched in the novel byna corresponding cynicism on the socialpoliticalnlevel. The feminist discussionngroup, Nate’s mother’s activism, VietnamnWar protest, the War MeasuresnAct, the victory of the Parti Quebecois,na petition condemning misconduct innthe Royal Canadian Mounted Police,nthe communist revolution in China—nall these are brought up only to bendiscredited. Coming from a leadingnnationalist and feminist, such treatmentnis pessimistic indeed. In fact the titlensuggests that the author would like tonrevert to prehistory—life before man—n^jHSIiilnTiniiliiiiiliifiiliilii^n,TTg..£i5iiiiiyiiiigTTnnnand hope that something better mightnevolve the next time.nIhere is a curious discrepancy betweennMargaret Atwood’s actions andnher fiction. She has been involved innvarious reformist movements, includingnsome mentioned in this novel, but shenquestions such movements in her fiction.nThe novel seems an occasion fornexamining her attitudes and actions.nThis may be artistic objectivity, a wisentruth-seeking that leaves no propositionsnuncriticized (a quality that marks thengreat novelist). But although she isnbright enough to perceive the excessesnand narrowness of vision often symptomaticnof popular causes, she seems tonlack firm metaphysics for human affirmationn( another mark of the great novelist)nand lapses into a glum cynicism.nIn the case of feminism, she hasnpassed beyond the usual prcgrammaticnwoman’s novel in which the woman,nchafing under male dominance, assertsnherself and finds self-fulfillment in ancareer. She remarked in an interviewnthat Marilyn French’s The Women’snRoom scotched that approach. Accordingnto Atwood, that novel ends with thenheroine walking on the beach saying,n”What the hell is this all about.? I didnit one way and it didn’t work. And thennI went and got my Ph.D. from Harvard,nand that’s rotten as well. And all I’mnleft with is these nightmares about thisnman in my room.” In Life Before Man,nperhaps we get a glimpse of the consequencesnof the negative and destructivenelements of feminism (even the best ofncauses suffer from extremism). Whennthose elements triumph, the victory isnan empty one.nJVlargaret Atwood, an accomplishednpoet, brings remarkable language skillsnto the writing of her novels. It is forngood reason that she is considered annimportant Canadian writer. It is regrettable,ntherefore, that such talent is undirectednby some vision of modern lifenwhich most people would consider morenaccurate. Dn