What are ways to demonstrate how Cat's Eye shows how difficult it can be for people to come to terms with their past? 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that one approach to take in demonstrating how Cat's Eye reflects the difficulty people might possess in coming to terms with their past can be seen in the memories of bullying that Elaine possesses.  Elaine progresses past the pain intrinsic to adolescence.  She becomes an artist, a thinker, and an established voice in both social and literary feminist movements.  However, the shadow cast upon her as a result of bullying and intimidation never quite leaves her. As in her self- portrait, the forces that make an imprint on her memory are both invisible and yet omnipresent.  Elaine never makes a clear break with her past.  She becomes the Faulknerian vision of the past which is never really dead; in fact, it is not even the past. She concedes this in her own narrative:  "The past has become discontinuous, like stones skipped across water, like postcards: I catch an image of myself, a dark blank, an image, a blank."  The past haunts Elaine and looms large in her present and future, as it "breathes." Elaine's experience with bullying is an example of how difficult it is for people to come to terms with their past.

Another approach to take in addressing the novel's argument in the difficulty with coming to terms in one's past can be seen in its structure.  Atwood designs the narrative in the form of first person flashback and memory.  The reader comes to understand the reality of Elaine's world through retrospection and reflection.  This helps to establish how memory never really leaves us. Atwood suggests that the construction of human identity is dependent on how we perceive a past that never leaves us.  Like the cat's eye marble, that encompasses both past and present within it, Elaine comes to understand that she is a product of her past memories and their integration into their present and future is what defines consciousness in the modern setting.  Elaine recognizes the hold of the past in how she describes love and human affection:  “Old lovers go the way of old photographs, bleaching out gradually as in a slow bath of acid: first the moles and pimples, then the shadings. Then the faces themselves, until nothing remains but the general outlines.”   Atwood posits that there is an intrinsic difficulty in people coming to terms with their past.  The past lingers in our mind.  Its passage over time is not absolute, but it is one that slips through our mind's grasp.  However, it plays a formative role in how it creates "the general outlines" of our being in the world.  Elaine perceives this in that she is never able to fully rid herself of her past.  Even seeing Cordelia suffer and experience her comeuppance is not enough to eviscerate the pain of the past, the stinging reality of "general outlines."  Elaine lingers in the modern setting, as one who might appear to stand alone, but walks with those memories of the past alongside her, prompting her to self- reflect that she is "vengeful, greedy, secretive and sly."  This helps to illuminate how Cat's Eye suggests that it is very difficult for people to come to terms with their past.

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