The Characters

Margaret Atwood surrounds Marian MacAlpin with characters who seem to offer alternative ways of dealing with life. Her roommate, Ainsley, begins as a radical feminist. She wants a child but does not want marriage, so she coldly chooses Len to be its father. After becoming pregnant, however, when she reads a book that warns that children brought up without a father figure are likely to become homosexual. Ainsley, who does not want to live with Len, quickly finds another man; ironically, it is one of the roommates who have cared for Duncan. More ironically, Ainsley at the end denounces Marian for betraying her womanhood. Marian’s friends Joe and Clara live in happy fecundity, producing child after child. Joe earns a living and...

(The entire section is 337 words.)

Characters Discussed

Marian MacAlpin

Marian MacAlpin, a conventional young woman who works in a dull job and is engaged to Peter, a rising young attorney. As the date of her wedding approaches, she loses her appetite, first for red meat and then for all foods. Her behavior becomes increasingly erratic, and at one point she spends a night with Duncan, who seems to be completely unemotional. Marian discovers that she is rebelling against the conventions that have trained her to expect that the best life can offer her is marriage to a financially and socially successful man. The lives of her friends present her with the possible roles of mother, helpmate, companion, and feminist rebel, but she rejects them all. In the end, she breaks her engagement and finds herself alone.

Ainsley Tewce

Ainsley Tewce, Marian’s roommate. She is a radical feminist who decides to have a baby outside marriage and unemotionally chooses Marian’s friend Len Slank to be the father. Once pregnant, she panics and decides she must marry, but she rejects Len and chooses an ordinary young man to be her husband. In the end, she blames Marian for rejecting the conventional life.


Peter, a rising young attorney. He proposes to Marian because all the young men he had played games with have married and have thus betrayed him. Getting married is the thing to do; everyone else does it, so he might as well. He is thoroughly conventional...

(The entire section is 524 words.)


Atwood describes Marian McAlpin as "someone who does not know what to do with her life." She begins the novel as a seemingly liberated...

(The entire section is 886 words.)