“Time Capsule Found on a Dead Planet” by Margaret Atwood

By: Phillip Goyette

Core text:

Atwood, M., Bacigalupi, P., Boyle, T. C., Litt, T., Millet, L., Mitchell, D., Rich, N., Robinson, K. S., Simpson, H., 1., W. M., McKibben, B., & Martin, M. (2011). Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet. In I’m with the bears. essay, Verso.


Atwood’s “Time Capsule Found on a Dead Planet” is a fiction short story written about how the planet the author is on is now dead. It is divided into five parts where each part is a different “age.” The first age is the very beginning, where things were simple. Gods were carved out of wood and painted on temple walls. The people of the time believed that the gods brought good weather, harvest, and children. They were omnipotent and omniscient. The second age is where money was created, on one side of the coin was a famous mortal figure, while on the other side of the coin was to remind the people of the gods. The people would keep this money close to them, and although you could not eat it or wear it, like magic, it could be turned into those things. When the author gets to the third age, money had become a god. It controlled everything. It became everything to these people. It became the most important thing. In the fourth age, the author gets into how money has caused greed and how it has caused destruction to happen to the planet. In the fifth age, the author writes her last words as money has caused the destruction of this planet.



Atwood, M., Bacigalupi, P., Boyle, T. C., Litt, T., Millet, L., Mitchell, D., Rich, N., Robinson, K. S., Simpson, H., 1., W. M., McKibben, B., & Martin, M. (2011). Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet. In I’m with the bears. essay, Verso.

Besides containing the short story, there is an about the author section which contains some interesting information about the author. It talks about how she is versed in many different forms of fiction and poetry. It also mentions some of her best-known novels that could be read and looked at.

Pan, Z. (2021). Climate change and global warming. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Science

This encyclopedia is full of information about climate change and its continuing effects. It defines what climate change is and gets into a lot of specifics of the issue. This is a great resource to use if you want to get more familiar with climate change and its effects on the earth. The article talks about how climate change is detected and likely scenarios that could occur. This all connects to Atwood’s short story, as climate change is what kills the planet. This encyclopedia will give you a better understanding of how climate change leads to the result at the end of the story.

Guardian News and Media. (2018, May 31). Margaret Atwood: Women will BEAR brunt of Dystopian climate future. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/margaret-atwood-women-will-bear-brunt-of-dystopian-climate-future.

This article gives insight and information about Margaret Atwood’s environmentalist and feminists views. In the article, she is quoted as saying “This isn’t climate change – it’s everything change…women will be directly and adversely affected by climate change.” She explains how the changing climate will lead to less food which means women and children will get less food. She even goes on to say that she predicts that the future will be like what she imagines in her fiction. This article gives you an idea of how she thinks as a writer and where she stands on certain issues. This is what inspires her to write.


The way that Atwood writes this short story makes it seem like it is a diary of some kind. This is a very effective way to pull the reader in and make them feel like you really are reading something that someone left in a time capsule. In this short story, the narrator is not technically the author. You do not get much of a sense of their personality, but the narrator seems to know everything that has happened throughout the ages. The setting is on a planet, and it is a physical place. When it comes to plot, you can see the rise and the fall throughout the different ages, with the 1st and 2nd age being the beginning and rising action respectively, the 3rd age being the climax, and the 4th and 5th ages being the falling action and resolution. The narrator seems to be the protagonist of the story, while the antagonist seems to be the society that destroys this planet. Some irony is used, like the line about thinking money could make you fly is repeated at the end of the story as the planet dies. The big ideas explored in this are climate change and the negative effects of money.

In the first paragraph of the first age, Atwood states that they carved gods out of wood when wood still existed. This is a nice way to foreshadow what is to come at the end of the story and sets an environmental tone right away.  In the second paragraph of the first age section, Atwood uses a metaphor for dew; “We smelled the earth and rolled in it; its juices ran down our chins.” The word choice is an interesting one and it paints a definitive picture in your mind. In that same paragraph, the titles “All-Knowing” and “Shining One” are capitalized, showing respect to these gods.

In the second age section, Atwood starts out by stating that money was created. This money is made from shining metals, just as the gods were carved out of them in the first age. Mentioning that the coins were being made from the same metal that the gods were being carved out of is a great way of showing that soon money would be reverend just as much as these gods. She mentions how money cannot be eaten or used for warmth, “but as if it by magic, it could be changed into such things.” This leads to the line saying that if you had enough money, it would be said that you could fly. This sets up the theme of age three which is money becoming a god, as it can bring humans unnatural things, like magic and the ability to fly.

In the 3rd age, money has taken over everyone’s lives. It has become the most important thing. Atwood says it is all-powerful, as she had described the gods earlier. The line, “It created greed and hunger, which were its two faces” is a great call back to money being a coin, and coins have two faces. She is saying money is evil. We are reminded of the environmental theme as she uses the metaphor of money “eating” forests and croplands. “To have it was a sign of grace” is also a callback to godly things.

In the 4th age, she talks about how deserts were made, wells were poisoned, and there was no more land for food to grow. At this point, money has caused too much greed. People have forgotten that this made-up currency does not mean anything if there is no planet to live on. The gods are not even mentioned because they have been completely forgotten about and money is the only thing that matters.

The 5th age addresses the person who finds this capsule. The planet is now officially dead. The last line, “Pray for us, who once, too, thought we could fly.”, is a call back to the 2nd age where it was said that if you had enough money, you could fly. Turns out, money is the reason the planet is now dead.

This short story, although fiction, speaks to a lot of things going on today in the real world. The whole story symbolizes Earth. You can easily see this planet is supposed to be Earth, and this happening to our planet can truly happen.


In the 3rd age, Atwood mentions how money has become a god. How do we see this manifested today? Think about how the want for money has impacted our environment.

Describe the setting of the story. How does the setting of the story make it more relatable to the readers? When talking about the deserts in the 4th age, what is she referring to?

What is the overall message of this short story to you? What do you think the author is trying to say? What message is she trying to get across? After looking over the resources, do you have a better idea of what climate change is and how Atwood thinks about it?

#Envornmental #Money #Greed # ClimateChange #EndOfTheWorld