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Margaret Atwood's ''The Edible Woman''

Jul 15, 2002 05:37 PM 49240 views

(Updated Jul 23, 2002 09:22 AM)

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For most people who have taken a University-College course on Canadian Literature, Margaret Atwood's ''The Edible Woman'' is a fairly standard staple in terms of reading requirements. I myself have come across it two times in two different University courses, one on an introduction to poems and novels, and the other on Canadian Literature itself. And my fascination with the novel has lead me to read it a few times since then as well.


''The Edible Woman'' is acclaimed Canadian author Margaret Atwood's first novel, and it nicely introduces us to many of the themes, thoughts and ideas that Margarat Atwood explores across many of her novels. But ''The Edible Woman'' is unique in the fact that it was written during a time when many of the novel's own feminist ideas hadn't even been fully explored by our own North American culture yet.


In many respects, ''The Edible Woman'' was created during a time of whirlwind change, and Atwood successfully links together ideas of marriage and consumerism as related to the ideas and the perceptions of the self. The novel is structured beautifully, and in it Atwood creates a world centered around that of a young woman, Marian McAlpin, who is thrust into the role of fiancee and the traditional societal expectations inherent in that symbolic position.


''The Edible Woman'' is successful in that it pulls you into Marian's world and makes you a part of it. Things at first appear to be crystal and real, and the moments of her daily life are presented in ways that a reader really can relate to. Marian McAlpin's life seems acceptable and even worthwhile; and the beauty of ''The Edible Woman'' is that as the story progresses, we start to question whether or not her life really is acceptable and worthwhile.


The novel is structured into three parts, beginning in first person, leading up to a point where Marion begins to crumble and eventually has to try and break free. But it's a false climax, that has lead into Marian's seeming acceptance of her role as fiancee. But it is at this point that the work jarringly switches to a third person narrative that allows us to hover ominously above Marian's life and her actions until she finally breaks free for real, at which point the novel glides to its final resolutions again in first person. ''The Edible Woman'' really is the romantic-comedy turned upside-down in that once the girl gets engaged it really is a downhill battle that may or may not end up with her at the alter. And of course, if you know Canadian Literature, it's safe to assume that you won't find a Hollywood ending here.


''The Edible Woman'' also contains what is perhaps the most interesting character that I've come across in Canadian Literature, that of Duncan: the young confidant Marian encounters early-on in the novel, an educated young man who is in a deeper state of self-questioning than Marian ever will be. The character's place in the novel is almost like the character's own personal description: small, thin, unattractive, but at the same time, important and revelatory. Without Duncan, there is no ''Edible Woman.''


And as author and femenist critic Linda Hutcheon describes, ''Marian is potentially Everywoman.'' It's an interesting thought, and one that can be played around with in your head as you read the novel. For, ''The Edible Woman'' begs its readers to reevaluate their own roles in society, and as Hutcheon describes, the novel warns us about the dangers of ''accepting the victim role in a consumer society.'' As juxtaposed through Duncan, the arch of Marian's ordeals reminds us to keep a cool and questioning mind. Through its own comic twists and turns, ''The Edible Woman'' reminds us to enjoy life as well as to question and be wary of it.


Grade: B+



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