Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 559

The title of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Edible Woman exemplifies the theme of commodity and consumption, which is linked to Marian McAlpin’s job with a consumer research, or marketing, company. Marian believes that her boyfriend and later fiancé, Peter Wollander, sees her as an item to be consumed, a trophy wife who will be an asset in his climb to success. Food and eating are important patterns of imagery through the novel. There are several dinner parties, and meals are often described in detail. Marian’s inability to eat indicates her struggles to make sense of—to digest—a world that often seems ridiculous.

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The story is a comedy of manners, a parody of the traditional romance plot in which a young woman rejects an inappropriate suitor to marry the right man. In this novel, neither Peter nor Duncan is the right match for Marian. She becomes engaged to Peter, then breaks off the engagement; her future remains uncertain. The other female characters are caricatures representing different versions of the courtship plot. The once fragile and beautiful Clara Bates is married and overwhelmed by her family. The three young women in Marian’s office are hoping to find mates to marry. Ainsley Tewce is convinced that motherhood is the proper role for a woman. She actively pursues a man to father her child, and to marry her. Similarly, Peter is the stereotyped yuppie, the ambitious lawyer with his carefully chosen wardrobe, fiancé, and proper masculine hobbies of hunting and photography.

The novel incorporates a range of literary allusions, including such fairytales as “The Gingerbread Man” (1875) and “Der Räuberbräutigam” (1812; “The Robber Bridegroom,” 1823), in which the groom murders a succession of wives until his last wife outwits him. One of the most important literary intertexts is Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), in which a young woman enters a confusing underground world and changes shape, much like the pregnant Clara (or like Marian when she crawls under a bed or stops eating). Fischer “Fish” Smythe discusses Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at great length at a dinner party. He claims that the novel is about a young woman struggling to find her...

(The entire section contains 559 words.)

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