Download The Edible Woman Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Summary

Summary of the Novel
The Edible Woman tells the story of Marian McAlpin, a young single woman who works for a market research company. Unable to foresee a fulfilling career within the company, she begins to worry about her future and about what she might become. One night, she comes to the unsettling realization that her relationship with her boyfriend, Peter, is more serious than she thought it to be. She tries to evade the matter by running away. Yet, when Peter proposes marriage that very night, Marian accepts. She had always assumed that she would get married, and Peter, she thinks, is an ideal choice: he is a lawyer and is bound to be successful. Similarly, Peter feels that marriage will aid his career.

Despite her engagement, Marian continues to see Duncan, the aimless graduate student of English Literature, whom she met while conducting door-to-door interviews for an ad campaign. The day after Peter proposes, they run into each other at a laundromat where they talk and share an unexpected intimate moment in the form of a kiss. Marian thinks the event is unrelated to Peter.

As she watches Peter cut his steak at dinner one night, Marian suddenly visualizes the diagram of a planned cow, outlining all the different cuts of meat. She is unable to finish the steak on her own plate and soon discovers that she can no longer eat meat that has any indication of bone, tendon, or fibre. Before long, the refusal spreads to other foods, leaving her unable to eat many of the things she used to enjoy. She begins to fear that she may not be normal but her married friend, Clara, assures her that the eating problem is simply a symptom of bridal nerves and that she will soon get over it.

As the wedding date approaches, Peter decides to throw a party. He enjoys displaying Marian and hints that she might want to get her hair done and buy a new dress. She complies by buying a red sequined thing that is, she thinks, not quite her. As she walks home, hair heavily scented and every strand glued in place, she thinks of herself as a cake: something to be carefully iced and ornamented. At the party, while Peter prepares to take a group photo, Marian realizes that she must escape. She finds Duncan and the two spend the night together in a hotel. The next morning, she is unable to eat a thing and has no choice but to confront her problems. According to Duncan, Marian’s problems are all in her mind: she has invented her “own personal cul-de-sac” and will have to think her own way out.

Later that afternoon Marian bakes a cake shaped and decorated into the likeness of a woman. When Peter arrives, she accuses him of trying to assimilate her and offers the cake as a substitute. He leaves quickly, without eating, and Marian begins picking at the cake herself. By the final chapter, Marian has called off the wedding and is eating regularly. Duncan tells her that she is “back to so-called reality”—a “consumer” once again. Marian then watches as Duncan eats the rest of the cake.

The Life and Work of Margaret Atwood
Few writers have equalled the success Margaret Atwood has enjoyed since her first collection of poetry was published in 1961. One of the leading Canadian writers of her generation, Atwood has garnered international acclaim as a poet, novelist, short story writer, critic, and author of children’s books. She has now published over 30 books of verse and prose and translations of her works have appeared in over 20 languages. A favourite among academics and the general reading public alike, Atwood has been honoured with numerous literary awards and nominations. She has won the Governor General’s Award twice (for the book of poems The Circle Game in 1966 and for her novel The Handmaid’s Tale in 1986) and has been short-listed for the prestigious Booker Prize three times. The last time was in 1996 for her novel Alias Grace.

Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1939. The years of her childhood and early adolescence were divided between the...

(The entire section is 3,076 words.)