(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cat’s Eye is the deeply disturbing story of a young girl whose life is scarred by the cruel treatment she receives at the hands of her friends. The novel follows the girl from childhood into middle age, tracing the effects of her early experiences on her adult life.

Atwood moves her narrative back and forth through time to tell Elaine’s story, intercutting the years of the girl’s troubled childhood with scenes from her later life. As a very young child, Elaine lives in relative isolation with her parents and her brother, Stephen, as their father pursues entomological research in the Canadian wilderness. When she is eight, the family settles in Toronto, and Elaine finds herself interacting for the first time with girls her own age. Her encounters with her first two friends, Grace Smeath and Carol Campbell, are marked by her confusion over social customs she has yet to learn and her desperate desire to fit in. When a third girl, Cordelia, joins the group, she quickly becomes the foursome’s leader and soon begins an escalating campaign of criticism and cruelty toward Elaine, whose lack of self-assurance Cordelia has sensed from the start.

Under the guise of “improving” their friend, Cordelia, Grace, and Carol humiliate and belittle Elaine, devising punishments and elaborate rules for her to follow. The effect of this treatment on Elaine is devastating; she begins to withdraw into deep depression and self-hatred, undergoing bouts of illness, fainting spells, and even self-mutilation before the situation at last reaches a crisis point. When Cordelia throws Elaine’s hat into a frozen ravine and orders the girl to retrieve it, Elaine falls through the ice and, in a state of delirium, imagines that the Virgin Mary has descended from the bridge overhead to help her. After...

(The entire section is 739 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cat’s Eye focuses on a fifty-year-old protagonist, Elaine, who is revisiting the city of her childhood. Elaine is a controversial artist who is returning for an exhibition of her works. During her journey, she undergoes a transformation, for she learns about herself, her art, and her life at various stages in the novel.

Elaine’s childhood begins with her traveling with her family across northern Canada. Her father is an entomologist who follows infestations; therefore, the family moves from motel to motel until she is eight years old. Elaine’s early childhood contrasts the new existence she faces when her family relocates to Toronto. She is forced to adapt to suburbia, which includes learning a new vocabulary and local etiquette. The clothing, speech, and items Elaine encounters reflect the rigidity associated with the 1940’s and 1950’s that Atwood recalled from her upbringing.

Elaine must learn what it means to be feminine and to socialize with members of her own sex. She realizes that she is different from the others at school and that her parents are not wealthy. During this time, Elaine becomes fascinated by another girl her age, named Cordelia. Cordelia lives in a large home with a cleaning woman and with other extravagances that Elaine admires. Cordelia claims to befriend Elaine; however, Cordelia and her other friends constantly harass Elaine for her many shortcomings and submit her to torturous acts. Elaine does her...

(The entire section is 522 words.)