Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman is about women and their relationships to men, to society, and to food and eating. It is through food and eating that Atwood discusses a young woman's rebellion against a modern, male-dominated world. The female protagonist, Marian McAlpin, struggles between the role that society has imposed upon her and her personal definition of self; and food becomes the symbol of that struggle and her eventual rebellion. In the essay, "Reconstructing Margaret Atwood's Protagonists," Patricia Goldblatt states that "Atwood creates situations in which women, burdened by the rules and inequalities of their societies, discover that they must reconstruct braver, self-reliant personae in order to survive." At the end of The Edible Woman, Marian partially reconstructs that new persona, or concept of self, through a renewed relationship to food.
The Edible Woman was published at the same time that feminism was experiencing a renewed popularity among political movements. But as Darlene Kelly notes in "Either Way, I Stand Condemned," the rhetoric of political movements "is often at odds with reality." In other words, the concepts of women's liberation were in contrast with the actual experience in women's day-to-day lives. Also, anorexia, although known in the medical profession, was not a popular topic of conversation in the lay community. Eating disorders were diagnosed in a doctor's office but were not being widely discussed in women's magazines. Having been published in this era prior to full-blown discussions of women's rights and women's health issues, The Edible Woman received many reviews that mainly emphasized the book's literary techniques.