The protagonist of the novel, Marian is a young, college-educated woman working at a dead-end, white-collar job editing for Seymour Surveys, a company that conducts customer surveys for product testing. Over the course of the novel, she experiences conflicting desires, on the one hand wanting to remain within her role as an average woman that conforms to the standard female role within society, and on the other hand feeling a desire to escape restrictive gender expectations. This conflict is depicted primarily through her slow loss of the ability to consume different food groups.
Ainsley Tewce, Marian's roommate, is an outspoken young woman who works a job similar in status to Marian's. She acts as a foil to Marian, the complete opposite of Marian's conservative behavior: Ainsley is loud, talks openly about sex, drinks liberally, and is focused on asserting her identity as a woman who doesn't conform to prescribed gender roles. She seeks to display this defiance by getting pregnant and raising a child on her own; however, her plan backfires, and in the end, she marries one of Duncan's roommates.
Peter Wollander, Marian's boyfriend, embodies traditional male gender norms and stereotypes. He is traditionally masculine in every sense; he is handsome, chivalrous, and constantly treats Marian as his exact female counterpart, pushing her to stay within the confines of a female stereotype. He has a profound lack of understanding of Marian's emotions and her true self. Although he is reluctant to marry at first, he soon pivots and quickly proposes to Marian.
Duncan is a graduate student of English that Marian becomes semi-involved in while she is engaged to Peter. Duncan acts as the total opposite to Peter. He is physically repulsive to Marian, plays word and mind games, lies, and is open about his exact feelings towards Marian—openly proclaiming that he views her only as an emotional "placeholder" to soothe his anxieties while he studies, not as a real partner.
Clara is Marian's friend from college. Clara dropped out of college after becoming pregnant. She married the father of her children, Joe, and proceeded to have two more children, by whom she is constantly surrounded throughout the novel. Marian often feels pity towards Clara, who seems frustrated with the restrictions of her role as a mother and housewife.
Joe is Clara's husband. A university professor, he expresses sympathy towards Clara's frustrations, but also seems to take little action in helping his wife regain agency and pursue her own interests. Joe and Clara's relationship is heavily scrutinized and criticized by Ainsley, Peter, and eventually, Marian herself.
Fish is one of Duncan's roommates, also a graduate student. Fish is plagued by his obsession with his thesis, and is comically portrayed as obscured by endless papers. He and Duncan's other roommate, Trevor, act like Duncan's parents. Duncan, himself, sees them as his parents and expresses distress when they appear to distance themselves from him to pursue their own interests. At the end of the novel, Fish marries Ainsley.
Trevor, another one of Duncan's roommates, is also a graduate student writing esoteric theses. He is more conversational than both Fish and Duncan.
The lady down below
The lady down below is Ainsley and Marian's landlord who rents out the upstairs room to the two women. She is judgemental, often making subtle remarks about the amount of alcohol Ainsley and Marian bring into the apartment or the men that come over. The lady from downstairs is particularly critical of Ainsley, who she says is a bad influence on the lady's daughter.
Clara's husband, a university professor who is aware of his wife's unhappiness but does little to help her find a purpose outside of her role as a housewife.
Lucy, Emmy, and Milli
The "office virgins," three girls that Marian works with at Seymour Surveys who all embody conservative, stereotypical expectations of women. They are all cautious about sex, despite openly wanting to find husbands and settle down.
The Edible Woman Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Edible Woman is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
The title, is metaphorical of course. Marian considered herself an edible woman, whom Peter and the society devoured upon. She broke this image of herself by eating the cake-woman she had made. She left all the negativity behind, and released...
In Chapter Ten, Marian tells Ainsley about her engagement, but Ainsley has no interest, as she is busy looking at the calendar and plotting which days will be the best for her to get pregnant by Len. Ainsley explains her strategy to Marian and...