Simmering, Margaret Atwood: Summary & Analysis

‘Simmering’ is a captivating short story written by the esteemed Canadian author and poet, Margaret Atwood (born 1939). First published in Atwood’s 1983 collection, Murder in the Dark, the story can be classified as flash fiction, micro-fiction, or even prose poetry. In this imaginative tale, Atwood presents an alternative universe where traditional gender roles surrounding cooking are reversed, depicting a society where men primarily take on the role of cooks while women pursue careers outside the home.

Plot Summary

The story unfolds through a third-person narrator, describing a unique world where men have developed a strong affinity for cooking. Initially, they start by taking charge of barbecues in their backyards, but gradually they venture into more extensive culinary endeavors, ultimately dominating the cooking domain in this fictional society.

On the other hand, women grow weary of baking, leading them to willingly cede control of this aspect of food preparation to men. Fueled by a desire to enter the workforce and earn money, women happily embrace this shift in roles. The men initially focus on cooking so-called 'masculine' foods like meat, while women concentrate on fruit and vegetable dishes. To maintain men's interest in cooking, women strategically offer praise and encouragement, using this as an opportunity to sneak out and pursue their careers while men remain occupied in the kitchen.

As time passes, men become deeply invested in their culinary pursuits, devising intricate machines and gadgets to enhance their cooking abilities. They boast about their culinary exploits at social gatherings, and some even choose to quit their jobs to dedicate more time to their newfound passion for cooking.

However, as the story progresses, women gradually start to reminisce about their historical involvement in cooking. They recognize that cooking was not always a solely male domain, and a sense of nostalgia sets in. As a result, the women yearn to reconnect with their culinary roots, dreaming of the joy of participating in the sacred ritual of food preparation and cooking, reminiscent of a quasi-religious experience.


'Simmering' by Margaret Atwood presents a thought-provoking exploration of gender roles and societal expectations through a whimsical and inventive lens. By skillfully flipping traditional cooking roles, Atwood prompts readers to consider the significance of culinary practices and the influence of societal constructs on gender norms. The story concludes with a sense of longing among women to reclaim their role in the culinary world, urging readers to reflect on the intricate relationship between food, culture, and gender identity.

Critical Analysis

Ironic Inversion of Gender Roles

In 'Simmering,' Margaret Atwood skillfully employs ironic inversion to challenge traditional gender roles and societal expectations. By cleverly swapping the roles of men and women in cooking and money-making, Atwood presents an alternative universe where men embrace the role of homemakers and cooks, while women pursue careers outside the home. This satirical twist prompts readers to critically examine the arbitrariness of gender stereotypes and the dynamics of power within societal constructs.

Challenging Gender Stereotypes

Atwood's story taps into existing gender stereotypes, such as associating masculinity with barbecuing. By starting from this familiar point, where men take pride in their barbecuing skills, the narrative eases readers into the idea of men taking control of the entire culinary domain. Through humorous and thought-provoking details, like men wearing aprons with slogans associated with hypermasculinity, Atwood crafts a plausible alternate reality. She highlights how societal perceptions can be shaped by associations and how these perceptions influence the value placed on certain types of work.

Privileging Men's Work

Atwood raises a political point about the privileging of men's work, often associated with the public sphere and making money, over women's work, traditionally connected to cooking and housekeeping. She challenges the notion that the value of work is intrinsic, proposing that it is primarily based on historical gender divisions. By presenting a world where men dominate cooking, Atwood implies that traditionally 'feminine' duties would be deemed more significant if they were primarily performed by men, while men's traditional 'masculine' roles might be perceived as less important.

Quasi-Religious Imagery

Incorporating quasi-religious imagery, Atwood emphasizes the sacredness of cooking in her story. She compares the transformation of 'consecrated flour' into bread to a form of holy communion. The mention of dreams about 'freedom,' 'apples,' and 'the creation of the world' invokes biblical references to Adam and Eve. These symbolic elements suggest a deeper layer of meaning, inviting readers to contemplate themes of freedom, creation, and potential collective action.

Questioning Societal Developments

Through 'Simmering,' Atwood encourages readers to reflect on the arbitrary nature of gender stereotypes in society. By presenting an inverted version of reality, she prompts us to question why certain roles and values have evolved in a specific direction. The story serves as a witty and thought-provoking commentary on gender dynamics and societal norms, challenging us to reevaluate our assumptions about gender roles and the work associated with each gender.


'Simmering' by Margaret Atwood is a brilliantly crafted tale that ingeniously flips traditional gender roles to prompt readers to question the basis of societal norms. Through irony, satire, and vivid imagery, Atwood challenges gender stereotypes and invites us to reconsider the value and significance placed on different forms of work. Her narrative serves as a call for critical reflection on the intricate interplay between gender, culture, and societal development.

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