Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Edible Woman, the premier work of fiction by noted Canadian poet Margaret Atwood, is a forerunner of much of the feminist literature that would follow the theme of woman in search of individual identity and worthwhile meaning in her life. The work is divided into three distinct sections, separated by the literary device of alternating narrative point of view. Although the narrator does not change, the voice changes as her perspective of herself alters. Section 1 employs first-person, though unreliable, narration, in section 2 the narrator refers to herself in third person as she essentially loses touch with who she is, and the third section returns to first person as the narrator reclaims her identity. At the time of its release, the novel was a fresh approach to the presentation of women characters in fiction, an almost surreal type of feminist black humor.

Although the story is set within the time frame of the free-love 1960’s, when women were beginning to discover themselves as individuals, the protagonist, Marian MacAlpin, seems wedged in by the values and myths of the generation that preceded her. Consequently, it is her adopted belief that in order for a woman, even an educated woman, to attain full identity, she must be defined by association with a successful man. In acquiescence to this code, Marian becomes involved with and subsequently engaged to Peter, an attractive young up-and-comer who expects her to act and react only in prescribed, predictable, and, above all, sensible ways.

The metamorphosis of Marian begins one evening when she has too much to drink at a dinner party and begins to realize that she is essentially disappearing as an individual. To illustrate this point, she first crawls under a bed, mentally escaping the others in attendance; then, when discovered, she physically runs away. Peter pursues and reclaims her....

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The Edible Woman Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Although The Edible Woman was poorly received in initial reviews, it has come to be considered one of the first heraldings of women’s right to independence. The book was not released until 1969, after a delay of five years, and despite the fact that the women’s movement had made significant strides during the 1960’s, an independent woman was not yet a totally acceptable ideal at that time. Additionally, and regardless of the fact that ritualistic cannibalism has been a theme in the world’s literary canon since its conception, some critics were offended by the approach in Atwood’s work, chiding her for moral irresponsibility when discussing birth and emotions in such tones.

Near the end of the work, Duncan, as alter ego to the protagonist, points out, as they sit on the edge of an empty pit, that Marian’s life is her “own personal cul-de-sac,” that she invented it and she would have to find her own way out. Though Marian MacAlpin has been little changed by the unfolding events in her life, she nevertheless becomes more human as she retreats slightly from her dead-end destination and becomes a hero of sorts in accepting her own complicity in her victimization, thus serving as a positive role model for future authors and readers alike. One reviewer missed this point, however, and complained that the novel was wasted paper, peopled with insignificant characters. Although the work is open-ended, one is left with the faint hope that Marian will escape her “abnormal normality” and become a beacon of hope for others trapped in their own constrictive relationships.

The Edible Woman Historical Context

A women's rights rally in Farragut Square in downtown Washington, D.C., in 1970 Published by Gale Cengage

Historical and Cultural Context
Patricia Goldblatt in "Reconstructing Margaret Atwood's Protagonists" begins her essay...

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The Edible Woman Literary Style

Point of View
One of the most obvious style techniques that Atwood uses in The Edible Woman is her...

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The Edible Woman Literary Techniques

Given Atwood's proclivity for creating first person narrative voices, her experimentation in The Edible Woman is doubly intriguing....

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The Edible Woman Ideas for Group Discussions

The Edible Woman offers a fascinating glimpse into the situation faced by talented young women before the social changes brought about...

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The Edible Woman Social Concerns

Margaret Atwood's first published novel, The Edible Woman, introduced readers to many of the themes that she elaborates in her later...

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The Edible Woman Compare and Contrast

1965-1969: Forty women in Canada are reported to have died because of illegal attempts to end their pregnancies.


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The Edible Woman Topics for Further Study

Americans are constantly exposed to ads each day via television, radio, billboard signs, and printed material. But even more interesting is...

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The Edible Woman Literary Precedents

Atwood's self-conscious literary sensibility and training make her very aware of the traditional forms she adapts for her own uses, and in...

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The Edible Woman Related Titles

Published in 1971, Atwood's poetry collection entitled Power Politics offers another study in the decay of a relationship amid the...

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The Edible Woman Media Adaptations

Margaret Atwood wrote two screenplay versions of The Edible Woman for Minotaur Films in 1970 and for Windfall Ltd. in 1971....

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The Edible Woman What Do I Read Next?

Margaret Atwood's prize-winning 1996 novel Alias Grace is about a young woman who is accused of murder....

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The Edible Woman Bibliography

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Grace, Sherrill E., and Lorraine Weir, eds. Margaret Atwood: Language, Text, and System. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1983. A compilation of critical essays written about Margaret Atwood and her work. One piece discusses Atwood’s transition from poetry to fiction; another is a feminist reading of her poetry. The longest entries discuss the novel Surfacing in relation to syntax and theme, particularly related to Amerindian influences and shamanism.

McLay, Catherine. “The Dark Voyage: The Edible Woman as Romance,” in The Art of Margaret Atwood, 1981. Edited by Arnold E. Davidson and Catherine Davidson....

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The Edible Woman Bibliography and Further Reading


Atwood, Margaret, “Great Unexpectations: An Autobiographical Foreword,” Margaret Atwood: Visions...

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