Use of extended metaphors, and symbols to represent internal feelings and states of being are techniques Margaret Atwood utilizes in her poem "The Interior Decorator." The poet attempts to describe an intrinsic struggle to hide and veil painful emotions through the art of interior decoration. It describes aspects of personality used to cover these feelings and the overall failure of it do so.
When one examines the title "The Interior Decorator" one may think of a career which involves garnishing one's home in style to make for a more pleasant atmosphere or an atmosphere that is conducive to the personality of the person living within that home. However, upon closer examination, one may realize another meaning. "Interior decorator" is a term which is more symbolic and describes an "art"of personality. The first stanza holds clues. "..but under/These ornate surfaces, the hard/Naked wood is still there." Two symbols are introduced here.
The ornate surfaces describe a pleasant and cheerful countenance while under this image a hardened spirit lies underneath. Stanza four reaffirms this position.
Stanza two develops the poet's ability to shelter her pain. "I am industrious and clever" Here she states plainly that she is gifted at hiding her true feelings. She paints "Landscapes on door panels and screens." Here symbolism is developed further as door panels may represent doors to her heart or other aspects of her being. In parallel, the screens she paints provide illusion to the way she feels. By painting the "the doors and screens" she hopes others will follow the illusion instead of looking at what she really experiences.
The introduction of the lemon tree in stanza three gives one clues about her pain. Here the symbol of pain is the bitter lemon rind. She states, "It is prudent to thus restrain one's...