The Edible Woman

The Edible Woman Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Why does Margaret Atwood switch her narrative modes in this novel?

    Margaret Atwood frames her protagonist's lack of control by partitioning the novel into three segments and switching the narrative modes. The story of the novel starts in the first-person narrative mode, but after Marian agrees to get engaged to Peter, the novel jumps to the third person. This creates distance between Marian and her own voice; it physically separates her from her voice and separates the reader from Marian, since she is no longer allowing the reader to access her internal monologue. Instead, the use of the "she" pronoun means that we can no longer inhabit Marian and know her intimately. This loss parallels Marian's own ability to feel confident in herself. She loses her first-person voice the second that she "loses" her future to Peter by agreeing to marry him. At the end, when Peter leaves Marian, she regains the ability to speak in the "I" and the narrative returns to the first-person.

  2. 2

    What is the significance of food in Atwood’s The Edible Woman?

    Before accepting Peter’s proposal of marriage, Marian’s relationship with food is not a major problem for her. But after she accept his proposal of marriage, her connection with food changes. She notices that the women around her, like Clara, are consumed by marriage and pregnancy. She realizes that she, too, will begin to be consumed by Peter as long as she stays with him. This theme becomes explicit when Marian first loses her ability to eat meat at dinner with Peter; as she watches him cut into a steak, she becomes disgusted by his way of carefully taking it apart and deconstructing it. After this point, Marian starts to imagine the life behind her food, and experiences feeling almost like a cannibal, as if every time she eats she is destroying the lives connected to that food (even if it is a vegetable or dairy product, and not directly a life-like piece of meat). She does not want, and cannot, bring herself to do the same action that she subconsciously feels Peter is doing to her.

  3. 3

    Describe a character in The Edible Woman and how they contradict or depart from traditional gender roles.

    Ainsley, Marian's roommate, departs from the expectations that a woman needs a male partner, as well as several other expectations that dictate women's behavior. Ainsley is open about her sex life, drinks frequently, and commonly references her education. She contrasts with Marian, since Marian adheres to every one of the expectations that Ainsley pushes back against. Marian doesn't drink, while Ainsley does. Marian, at the beginning of the story, has never had sex, while Ainsley openly discusses the various men she sleeps with and plots to seduce Len so that he can impregnate her. However, Ainsley is also more complicated, since at the end of the novel, she hastily gets married and pregnant. She conforms to the 1960s expectation that a woman should be only a wife and mother.

  4. 4

    How are Duncan and Peter contrasted through their physical characteristics, jobs, or living spaces?

    Duncan and Peter represent opposing versions of young, burgeoning professional men. Duncan lives in an apartment with two other roommates, who he always refers to as his "family," emphasizing to Marian how he needs them so that they can take care of him. Peter, on the other hand, lives alone, partially because he has enough money to afford an apartment due to his starting position as a lawyer. Duncan is objectively less successful and stereotypically "appealing" than Peter—he has less money, a poorly decorated apartment, and an unappealing physical appearance that puts Marian off. He is skinny and deathly thin, the total opposite of Peter, who is always described as being traditionally handsome and as someone of who everyone in Marian's life approves. Duncan, on the other hand, is a secret part of Marian's life, and not the kind of man that would garner the same social status as Peter.

  5. 5

    Choose one of Marian's friendships and explain how it reinforces her feelings of alienation.

    Although Marian and Clara were good friends in college, since graduating and moving into their adult lives, the two women's paths have grown incredibly different and misaligned. Their friendship isn't much of a friendship; instead, Marian feels pity for Clara and is unsure of why Clara still wants to keep her as a friend. When Marian first goes over to Clara's house, she doesn't know what to do with herself. She thought that Clara had wanted her to help with the children, but while at Clara's house, Clara doesn't even ask Marian to hold her children. Clara and Marian's lives don't share similar values, which also becomes evident when Marian tries to tell Clara about her problems with eating. Clara dismisses her worries and assumes that Marian is just anxious about her marriage to Peter and the possibility of sex. She doesn't listen to Marian, instead imposing her own view of what a woman should feel onto Marian.