Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 771

Through Marian MacAlpin’s rather pathetic attempt at becoming an independent woman, the author illustrates the prevalent feminist view of a male-dominated world in which woman is relegated to the role of victim. Although Marian is certainly no archetypal hero in the strictest sense of the term, she nevertheless manages to break away from the constraints of her prudish background and attains an element of optimistic freedom. To convey her message, Margaret Atwood employs various literary devices of alternating narration, literary allusion, and extended metaphor.

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By dividing the book into three sections and switching narrative perspective, Atwood demonstrates her narrator’s loss of control. The novel begins and ends in first person; however, the crucial middle section of the work features third-person narration. It does not use an objective third-person narrator; instead it depicts the protagonist referring to herself as “Marian” instead of “I.” This approach to narration is more disconcerting than merely switching from one narrator to another because the reader sees the narrator lose touch with herself and fade into the story. On the other hand, this switch allows the narrator more objectivity, as she is now permitted microscopic observance of her own behavior while staying removed from it. From a feminist perspective, this narrative style allows the reader to view the protagonist as both subject and object, and it is the creation of the cake icon that unites the two. As soon as Marian severs the cake’s head from the body, the work returns to first-person narration.

Literary allusion is a major factor in The Edible Woman, not only within the work but the work itself. The novel has been compared repeatedly to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and uses much of the same imagery: getting small, getting large, the rabbit, spiritual guides, the “Eat Me” cakes, and the frequent references to food and eating. The conclusions of the works also are similar: When Alice awakes from her dream, her life is just as it was before, unchanged by her circular fantasy wanderings.

Additional allusions exist throughout the work, presented both blatantly and under disguise. Duncan and his roommates are graduate students in English, and much of their discussion revolves quite naturally around literature. The most intriguing of the minor characters is Fish (aptly named for his predilection of “fishing” for interpretation), who is constructing a term paper on the “womb symbols in Beatrix Potter,” initiating extended discussions on Through the Looking Glass (1872) and seeking the literary theme of Woman with a capitalized W in various works.

Other references, though present, are more obscure. One of the more veiled allusions comes when Marian enters Duncan’s apartment for the first time and is told that each occupant has his own chair—Mama Bear (Trevor, who has obvious feminine/homosexual characteristics), Papa Bear (Fish, who represents authority), and Baby Bear (Duncan, for whom the others function as surrogate parents). Another less obvious allusion is incorporated in the pumpkin imagery surrounding the idea of pregnancy; Peter...

(The entire section contains 771 words.)

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