Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3427
Chapter 20 opens with a description of Marian “walking slowly down the aisle” to the sound of gentle music. It is not until she reads one of the items on her grocery list that the aisle in question becomes identifiable as the aisle of a supermarket and not a church. She notices the inescapable music and, knowing that it is deliberately used to lull shoppers into a “euphoric trance” and lower sales resistance, feels resentment towards it. But knowing about these kinds of sales strategies does not make Marian immune to them. Recently, she has found herself pushing shopping carts “like a somnambulist” and, as a result, now tries to defend herself by making lists. However, she knows that this precaution will be only partially successful. Her position at Seymour Surveys has taught her that products are all essentially the same. The only way you can make a choice, she thinks, is to abandon yourself to the music and make a random snatch. Eventually, she will have to make a choice, thereby validating what some planner or marketing strategist had hoped and predicted she would do.
Picking through the vegetables, Marian wishes that she could once again become a carnivore. She recalls her trip back home at Christmas: at dinner she had said that she was not hungry and then, secretly, had eaten huge quantities of cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and mince pie. She thinks, too, of her family’s reaction to her engagement—a rather smug satisfaction, as though their fears about the repercussions of a university education had finally been calmed. Now that she was engaged, they figured she was turning out right after all (even though they had not yet met Peter).
Now an officially engaged couple, Marian and Peter see more of each other. In fact, ever since Marian was “ringed,” Peter has developed a habit of “displaying her” to his well-dressed and soon-to-be successful friends. Deciding that the time has come for Peter to get to know some of her friends, Marian makes plans for a dinner party with Clara and Joe but then worries about the menu. Over the past month, the last forms of meat that she had been able to eat—hamburger, pork, lamb, and hot dogs—had excluded themselves from her diet. She decides on a casserole.
By the night of the dinner, Marian has become quite annoyed by her body’s decision to reject certain foods. Because she is now unable to eat anything that was once alive, she thinks that her stand might be an ethical one. However, immediately following this realization she discovers that she can no longer eat carrots. She manages to get through dinner without incident but the evening is not a success. Clara and Joe had been unable to find a babysitter and had thus brought their children with them. All three are eventually pacified and put to sleep but the ensuing conversation is awkward. After their guests leave Peter tells Marian, jokingly, that they will “never be like that.” Marian then tries to convince herself that it does not matter whether or not Peter gets along with Clara and Joe because they were from her past. Peter, she thinks, should not be expected to adjust to her past: it was the future that mattered.
Later that night, Ainsley returns home from her Pre-Natal Clinic. On the verge of tears, she tells Marian about a psychologist who this evening spoke about the importance of the father image for a child. Without one, Ainsley reports, a boy is “absolutely certain to turn into a. . . homosexual.” The mention of this “one category of man who had never shown the slightest interest in her” fills her eyes with tears. She then sits up, pushes back her hair and exclaims: “There’s got to be a way.”
In the next chapter, Marian and Duncan enter a downtown museum holding hands. They have been...
(The entire section contains 3427 words.)
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