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 cares for the house and children while Clara functions only to bear offspring. The “three virgins” who are Marian’s office friends live in the ever more unlikely hope that an eligible young man will marry them. After Marian’s flight from the party, one of them, Lucy, immediately moves in on Peter.
Peter offers Marian a thoroughly conventional, affluent, and predictable life as a housewife; he is too conventional in his life-style and in his expectations to provide any kind of interest or excitement. Marian herself is not really aware of why she reacts as she does to the prospect of marriage, but her reactions show that she is rebelling against what she subconsciously recognizes will be the destruction of her personality. Rather than permit others to destroy her, she attempts to destroy herself by not eating, even though part of her knows that she must have nourishment. Duncan, who professes to be bored by all of life, shows her what total noninvolvement can mean, and her reaction to him indicates that her life force is too strong; she cannot remove herself from life. Her gesture of baking and eating the cake at the end is a statement of Marian’s newfound ability to go on with her life as an independent individual.