The Edible Woman Chapters 30-31: Summary and Analysis
by Margaret Atwood

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Chapters 30-31: Summary and Analysis

Summary
Marian is not home for more than a few moments before she receives a call from Peter. He is angry and demands to know where she disappeared to last night. He tells her that she disrupted his evening and that he and Lucy drove up and down the streets looking for her. He also asks about the young man (Duncan) he heard about through Trevor. Marian offers a few vague answers but does not want to talk about this over the phone. Instead, she asks Peter to come over later in the day. She has not yet made any decisions and wishes to have some more time to think things over. What she wants, she decides, is a way of knowing “what was real,” a test of some kind. She does not want to get tangled up in a discussion with Peter and tries to think of something that will allow her to avoid words. She begins to write out a grocery list but quickly puts down her pencil. All of a sudden, she knows “what she [needs] to get.”

Marian goes to the supermarket and moves “methodically” up and down the aisles finding everything she needs. Not wanting to use anything that was already in the house, she buys eggs, flour, lemons, sugar, icing sugar, vanilla, salt, food colouring, and cocoa. When she gets home she bakes a sponge cake. Once it is mixed and in the oven, she makes and divides the icing. One portion she dyes bright pink, another chocolate brown, and a third she leaves white. As the cake cools Marian feels glad that Ainsley is not at home: she does not want her to interfere with what she is going to do.

Marian cools the cake by the open window and then begins “to operate.” She divides the cake in two, using the first half to make a head and body and the second to add arms and legs. She sticks the whole cake together with the white icing. Eventually, she has a blank white body and quickly sets about clothing it. First, a bikini is added, then a dress with ruffles around the neck and hem. A smiling pink mouth and pink shoes are added next. With the chocolate icing Marian draws the eyes, nose, and lines demarcating the arms and legs. The hair is a mass of swirls and curls and the eyes are green with silver globular decorations acting as pupils.

Finally, the cake-woman is complete and looks like an elegant china figurine. Marian contemplates her creation and suddenly worries about what will become of it. Thinking that her cake looks very appetizing, Marian says: “You look delicious. . . And that’s what will happen to you; that’s what you get for being food.” She feels sorry for her creature, powerless to do anything about it. Before long Marian hears Peter’s footsteps on the stairs. She considers how infantile and undignified she will seem to a “rational observer” and decides that if Peter thinks her silly she will believe him and
accept his version of herself.

When Peter enters the apartment, Marian tells him that she has a surprise for him. Although she is momentarily distracted by the thought that her fears and flight to Duncan had been little more than an evasion (“Peter was not the enemy after all. . . It was Duncan that was the mutation”), Marian goes to the kitchen and returns carrying the cake. She places it in front of Peter and says: “You’ve been trying to destroy me, haven’t you. You’ve been trying to assimilate me.” She then tells him that she’s made him a substitute—something he will like much better. Peter stares at the cake, then at Marian. She is not smiling. He leaves shortly afterwards without eating any of the cake. As a symbol, Marian thinks that her cake has failed. Suddenly, she is hungry and begins to eat some of the cake herself. Almost immediately, the part of her not occupied with eating begins to feel nostalgic for Peter. She imagines him: well dressed, scotch in hand, foot on the head of a stuffed lion, a revolver strapped to his body—“he would definitely succeed.” When Marian is halfway through the legs, Ainsley arrives with Fish. Ainsley is surprised by the...

(The entire section is 2,168 words.)