Study Guide

Siren Song Themes

  • Lies and Deceit

    Sirens are masters of deception in the simplest ways possible: song and flattery. In "Siren Song," our speaker is so clever in the way she deceives us that we're never even aware that we're being duped—the entire time. We're too busy loving all of her talk about us being "unique" and special enough to save her. All the while we're hearing "about" the song and being lured to our deaths, we fail to realize that the very thing we want to learn about is the thing we've been hearing all along. So deception, in this case, is best exercised through the flattery of our egos in believing that we are in fact the greatest heroes of all. (Spoiler alert: we are not.)

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. What's so deceptive about the Siren's song in Atwood's poem? Why is it so easy for her to fool us?
    2. How does sexuality play a role in the manner in which our speaker seduces us? Is it overt or subtle? How do you know? 
    3. What's ironic about the way the speaker deceives us? What does her deception tell us about our assumptions regarding predator and prey? 
    4. What are some poetic devices that help make the Siren song all the more deceiving and seductive?

    Chew on This

    Deception in "Siren Song" isn't all about lies, but is rather something that is derived from our willingness to assume we are always the hero and/or predator. Wait—you mean we're not all that and a bag of chips?

    The speaker's "cry for help" and flattery in the poem are the ultimate mechanisms for deception here. We're caught off-guard by our own egos and eagerness to play the hero. Hey, at least we tried though, right?

  • Isolation

    As villainous as the Sirens may appear in "Siren Song" and other Greek myths, we also recognize that these ladies are suffering too. Our speaker is isolated with two "feathery maniacs" on an island she can never leave. Sounds like a blast, right? So our villain isn't without her own vulnerabilities and tragedy, which gives her something more than just the flat two-dimensional interpretations we usually see. On a deeper level, we may imagine our speaker as being isolated in her own myth, due to the biases of writers and mythologists who tend to sketch their characters with limiting characteristics.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. What's important about the symbolism of an island, in terms of isolation? Is there something tragic about the Siren's circumstances? What parts of the poem support your answer? 
    2. How does the speaker make us feel bad for her? Do we still feel the same way by the very end of the poem? Why or why not? 
    3. Is there anything ironic about the speaker revealing her own dissatisfaction and isolation on an island of "beached skulls"? 
    4. Why might the speaker feel isolated in a place that is "picturesque and mythical"? Wouldn't everyone want to live in his or her own myth that's picturesque? What parts of the poem support your answer?

    Chew on This

    Being the star of your own myth isn't all it's cracked up to be in "Siren Song." In fact, it becomes the reason why the speaker feels so isolated on that "picturesque" island.

    Villains suffer too in "Siren Song," which suggests that they're not always the two-dimensional characters we would like them to be. (Check out Darth Vader in the final minutes of Return of the Jedi for another example.)

  • Women and Femininity

    Sirens are always women in Greek mythology, so you know there will be some ideas floating around in "Siren Song" regarding women and the femininity they're meant to represent. Sirens are also supposed to be seductive and sexy, so our speaker may be offering some questions about the sexual roles women so often play in literature. These roles, according to our speaker, often appear "picturesque and mythical," which may come across as flat and predictable, rather than something we might encounter in that thing we like to call… oh yeah, real life. It kind of makes sense, then, that the speaker would feel "bored" with that same old song.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. How is femininity portrayed in Atwood's poem? Is it a flattering look at feminine sexuality or not so much? What parts of the poem support your answer? 
    2. Do you think the speaker feels isolated in her own femininity? Is there anything limiting about the kind of sexuality she's meant to embody? Why or why not?
    3. Is there any symbolic connection between "the song" and ideas of women and femininity in "Siren Song"? Why do you think so? 
    4. Why might femininity and sexuality be seen as something "boring" in Atwood's poem? Is there any connection with the speaker's "boring" song? Why do you think so?

    Chew on This

    The "song" in Atwood's poem is really a symbol for the two-dimensional characteristics that are often used to represent women and femininity in literature. Where's the humanity?

    The Siren's not actually bored with her portrayal in literature. It's all part of her elaborate ruse to get us to feel sorry for her. In other words, it's a trap.