The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

At the heart of Cat’s Eye’s harrowing story of childhood cruelty are the contrasting personalities of Elaine and Cordelia. The initial differences between the two girls are great, with Elaine’s awkwardness and lack of self-confidence making her the perfect foil for her more sophisticated friend. Having spent her earliest years largely in isolation with her family, Elaine is thrown into her first friendships with no knowledge of the traditional behavior expected of young girls, and she finds herself ill-prepared for the rigid codes and values she is expected by her peers to embrace. Elaine’s natural desire for friends is intensified by her fear of not fitting in, a fear that Cordelia will seize upon and exploit.

For her own part, Cordelia is not at all the self-assured individual her new friends assume her to be. As the youngest of three daughters, she is herself excluded and frequently ridiculed by her older sisters, who subject her to a milder version of the treatment she will visit so forcibly on Elaine. It seems clear that the source of Cordelia’s own insecurities and her family’s damaging psychological dynamic is the girls’ cold, critical father, whose love and approval Cordelia is never able to win.

As is often the case among children, Cordelia acts out among her peers a more primitive version of the treatment to which she is subjected at home, casting Elaine as the victim and herself in the role of harshly critical...

(The entire section is 463 words.)