Chapters 17-19: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2529

Chapter 17 represents a turning point in the novel—and in Marian’s life. Looking at Peter across a restaurant dinner table, Marian decides that anyone would have to agree that he is exceptionally handsome. Ainsley had once called him “nicely packaged” and Marian now thinks that she finds this quality attractive. She even feels a sense of “proud ownership” at being with him in this public place and reaches over to touch his hand. As they wait for their food to arrive, Marian and Peter resume a conversation begun earlier concerning the proper education of children. Peter talks theoretically but Marian believes that it is their own future children they are discussing. They disagree on a discipline issue and Peter accuses Marian of not understanding “these things.” He tells her that she has led a sheltered life.

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After a few moments, a dinner consisting of rare filet mignon wrapped in bacon is delivered to their table. As she eats, Marian’s thoughts turn to the way Peter sometimes looks at her and touches her in bed. She describes his touch as clinical and devoid of passion and likens the experience to that of a patient on a doctor’s examination table. Her attention is then focused on Peter’s plate. She watches him cut his meat and suddenly views the action as an act of violence. This thought triggers a series of others: she is reminded of the Moose Beer commercials for which she now feels responsible. This leads her to think of a newspaper story about a kid who shot nine people from an upstairs window—an example of removed violence. As she continues to watch Peter cut his food, she spontaneously visualizes the diagram of a planned cow, illustrating all the different cuts of meat. Looking down on her own plate, she no longer sees a steak but rather a hunk of muscle that was once “part of a real cow”—a cow that was whacked over the head “as it stood in a queue like someone waiting for a streetcar.” She also thinks of the supermarket packaging that makes the meat appear official and clean. Unable to finish her dinner, Marian lays down her fork. At that same moment Peter smiles and says that “a good meal always makes you feel a little more human.”

One day after the incident at the restaurant, Marian is unable to eat a pork chop and, a few weeks later, discovers that the planned pig and planned sheep, like the planned cow, are also “forbidden.” She finds that she cannot eat anything with a bone, tendon, or fibre. She wonders what could possibly be making these decisions, deciding that it is certainly not her mind. She also begins to fear that the “refusal” will spread and thinks she might be becoming a vegetarian.

Meanwhile, Ainsley has learned that she is pregnant. She has told Len the news but has not informed him that she planned the pregnancy. As a result, Len, believing that he has impregnated “a little girl” becomes terribly upset and calls Marian for support. Marian guesses that Ainsley has not told Len the whole story and resents having to get involved. After all, it was not her concern since “she herself was getting married.” When he shows up at her apartment a little while later, Marian offers him a beer (Moose Beer, bought “out of curiosity”) and listens to him tell her how horrible he feels. Finally, Marian tells him that Ainsley intended to get pregnant. She tells him all about the anthropology courses that influenced Ainsley’s thinking and how she is convinced that no woman can be fulfilled until she has had a child.

Len does not immediately believe Marian. Then, when he begins to understand what has happened, he makes a derogatory statement about the evils of educating women. Ainsley arrives soon afterwards and Len accuses her of using him. She tries to assure him that his...

(The entire section contains 2529 words.)

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