Theme and message

The main theme of the short story “The Age of Lead” by Margaret Atwood is consequences, supported by the motifs of death, commercialism, and pollution. The author’s message is that the polluting actions of human beings, driven by commercialism and industrialisation, are destroying the environment and have long-term negative consequences for the human race, symbolised by the deaths of Vincent and John Torrington.


The theme of the negative consequences of human beings’ actions is explored at many levels in the story, often including extended metaphors and symbolism. The narrative goes from order to chaos, which is one important consequence of human action: Jane lived what she assumed to be an ordered, free life but the death of Vincent creates chaos in her life, just like the lead poisoning created chaos on the boats of the Franklin Expedition, and just like modern day litter creates chaos on the streets.

The first level of consequences is explored through the TV show about John Torrington and the Franklin Expedition. While searching for a cheaper route to India, the crew dies because of lead poisoning caused by the canned food sealed with lead. At that time (the Victorian Age), tinned cans were a new commercial development and they were sealed with lead because people did not know it is toxic....

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