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....

(The entire section is 768 words.)