The Edible Woman

The Edible Woman Literary Elements



Setting and Context

An unnamed city in Canada during the 1960s

Narrator and Point of View

The novel is divided into three sections. Part I is narrated by Marian in the first-person. Part II, which takes up the majority of the novel, is written from the limited third-person perspective from Marian's point of view. Part III, which is just one chapter, returns to Marian's first-person perspective.

Tone and Mood

The novel's tone oscillates; at times, it parallels Marian's exact emotions and creates discomfort or a deep sense of uneasiness, particularly in areas where Marian experiences conflict between herself and her body or herself and the people around her. At other times, it is humorous and a light satire of contemporary society.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Marian MacAlpin is a protagonist. Peter, her boyfriend and later fiancé, is the antagonist.

Major Conflict

The novel's conflict focuses on Marian's engagement to Peter, which triggers her to start losing the ability to eat certain foods and experience a crisis of identity.


The novel's climax occurs when Marian bakes a cake in the form of a woman for her fiancé, Peter, to eat, as a symbol of the way he is destroying her individuality.


Early on in the novel, Marian exhibits signs of dissociating from her body, like when she begins to cry at a dinner without realizing it. The presence of food features largely in the beginning of the novel, setting up the central role food will have as an evolving symbol for Marian's unhappiness within her engagement.


Marian often understates the effects Peter has on her; he will say something that could be interpreted as misogynistic, and she will agree or go along with it, never expressing her dissatisfaction. She also continuously downplays the level to which she knows Peter, convincing herself within the narrative that she doesn't necessarily "need" to know or understand him.


When Trevor, Fish, or Duncan speak about their term-papers, they allude to other literary texts, which are reinterpreted through psychoanalytic language that becomes dense and satirically complicated. They reference Alice in Wonderland and Shakespeare.


Surreal, visceral imagery that focuses on people's appearances and bodies is typically used. At times, Marian's sense of reality starts to waver and images begin to grow more dream-like, which also contrasts scenes in which the imagery is very "standard" or banal, such as an office setting or laundromat.


The novel contains many representations of the paradoxical expectations women face in society, such as the pressure to be both a virgin and sexually attractive, or the pressure to be both independent and submissive.


The novel uses parallels between physical spaces, such as apartments, and parallels between physical appearances between Peter and Duncan to distinguish the different roles they occupy in Marian's life and how Marian relates to them. There are many other such "pairs" set up within the novel that accentuate how each character interacts with a certain societal expectation or gender role: Ainsley-Marian, Clara-Marian, Peter-Joe, and Len-Fish are just a few.

Metonymy and Synecdoche


Food is personified in the novel, since Marian begins to believe that she sees signs of life in almost all foods, even in products like dairy or vegetables.