The Edible Woman Summary

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood is a 1969 novel about a woman who is struggling to come to terms with her engagement and impending marriage.

  • The novel follows Marian MacAlpin, a young woman who works in market research, as she becomes engaged to Peter, a successful young lawyer.
  • As the wedding day approaches, Marian finds herself increasingly unable to eat, and she begins to feel like she is being consumed by her role as Peter’s wife-to-be.
  • In an attempt to assert her own identity, Marian has a fling with Duncan, a disaffected graduate student.


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Last Updated on July 7, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 527

The Edible Woman is a novel written by Margaret Atwood and published in 1969. Atwood, a Canadian author known for her feminist themes and exploration of identity, wrote the novel during a time of significant social and cultural change in the West. The Edible Woman reflects the emerging feminist movement of the 1960s and explores themes of gender roles, societal expectations, and the loss of self in a consumer-driven world.

What Happens: 

Part 1:

  • Part 1 is told from the first-person perspective of Marian McAlpin, a young woman working at a market research company in Toronto.
  • Marian gets engaged to Peter, a seemingly perfect and traditional man, and she struggles with her own identity and societal pressures.
  • Marian’s roommate Ainsley, is very different from Marian, and has unconventional views on men, sex, motherhood, and relationships.
  • Marian meets Duncan, an unconventional man who challenges her basic ideas about how to behave. Later, they run into each other and briefly kiss. 

Part 2:

  • Part 2 switches to a third-person narrator. 
  • Marian's perception of food and consumption takes on a symbolic meaning as she starts to lose her appetite and finds herself increasingly repulsed by food.
  • Marian's relationship with Peter becomes strained as she begins to question her role as a woman and her engagement.
  • Marian reconnects with Duncan and starts a secret affair with him.
  • Marian is now only eating vitamin pills, and no solid food.

Part 3:

  • Marian's inner turmoil intensifies as she becomes more disconnected from her own desires and starts to view herself as an object to be consumed.
  • She feels trapped between societal expectations and her own internal struggle for autonomy.
  • Marian cleans up her apartment and prepares to move on with her life, away from both of the men she’s been in relationships with. 

Why it Matters: 

The Edible Woman holds significant historical and literary importance, particularly within the context of the feminist movement of the 1960s. The novel explores the challenges faced by women in a patriarchal society, shedding light on the pressure to conform to traditional gender roles and societal expectations.

Atwood's portrayal of Marian's loss of appetite and disassociation from food serves as a powerful metaphor for Marian's loss of identity. It reflects the societal pressures on women to conform to prescribed roles and the subsequent erosion of personal agency.

The novel's exploration of women's experiences within a consumer-driven culture resonates with the rise of consumerism during the 1960s. Marian's struggle to find her own voice and resist being consumed by societal expectations reflects broader themes of alienation and the search for individual autonomy in a materialistic society.

Moreover, The Edible Woman showcases Atwood's incredible skill in dissecting complex female characters and exploring the inner lives of women. Her nuanced portrayal of Marian's journey toward self-discovery and the challenges she faces in asserting her own desires contribute to the novel's enduring significance.

The novel's exploration of feminist themes, the critique of gender roles, and the examination of the impact of consumer culture on personal identity continue to resonate with readers. The Edible Woman remains a thought-provoking and influential work in feminist literature, inviting discussions about societal expectations, individual agency, and the pursuit of authentic selfhood.

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