"I'd say from my limited experience that you're marvelously normal, darling."
When Peter answers Marian after she asks whether she is "normal"—she is troubled by her inability to eat, and is anxious to ascertain any sense of self or connection to what is "normal"—he praises her for her normalcy, making it evident that he prizes Marian for her ability to conform to social expectations and fit within feminine gender norms. He loves Marian because she is normal; as a normal woman, she can be the status symbol he needs to further his career and establish a "normal" life, ignoring the fact that such a life would suffocate Marian's agency. Peter also says that he has "limited experience" of Marian, revealing that even though they are engaged, he feels that he doesn't know Marian that well—a fact that doesn't appear to perturb him.
"You aren't an escape anymore, you're too real."
Duncan is very explicit about the role Marian plays in his life. To him she is an escape from reality: not really "herself" as a fully fleshed-out individual but a placeholder for other things. When she wants to use him for emotional support, Duncan stops her, outlining the exact terms of their relationship once more. This explicit rejection contrasts Peter's coded emotions; where Peter is never clear about what he sees Marian as, Duncan openly states that he uses Marian. He also reveals that Marian isn't "real" to him; in the same way that she isn't "real" to anyone else, as everyone sees her only through the lens of the role she fits in their life—fiancée, superficial friend, or coworker. Marian has no escape from being used by those around her.
Now that she had been ringed he took pride in displaying her.
As soon as Peter and Marian get engaged, it becomes clear how Peter views Marian: an object to display, not a real woman or independent person with agency. Women, and wives, are meant to be put on display and reinforce male identity within their work or society. Peter takes pride in Marian only so much as she fulfills his expectations of what a woman should be, presentable and submissive.
He was treating me as a stage-prop; silent but solid, a two-dimensional outline.
Here, like in other parts of the novel, Marian realizes how uncomfortable she is with the way Peter views her. He doesn't understand her, nor does he want to. Instead, she is a two-dimensional, stereotypical image of a woman that he wants; not a woman in her own right. She isn't Marian, but simply a portrait of a typical woman meant to complement his actions like a static and silent "stage-prop," without a voice and without the ability to exercise agency.
I had talked about a career, making it sound much less vague than it was in my own mind, and he told me later that it was my aura of independence and common sense he had liked: he saw me as the kind of girl who wouldn't try to take over his life.
The foundation of Marian and Peter's relationship is revealed to be a partial lie, since when Marian explained herself to Peter, she did so by partially falsifying the narrative of her own career. Over the course of the novel, it becomes clear that the two know little about each other, and that Peter primarily, at first, prizes Marian because he sees her as the opposite of a woman with needs. She won't try to take over his life, he believes, which is partially true, but only true because Marian suppresses her real desires and allows herself to become exactly what Peter wants, thus losing her own identity and agency in the process.
She put a forkful into her mouth and chewed it slowly; it felt spongy and cellular against her tongue, like the bursting of a thousand lungs.
When Marian consumes the Valentine's Day cake that Peter got her, she feels like she is cannibalistically consuming a "thousand lungs." Lungs, here, become a potent symbol of one's ability to breathe; she is eating her own ability to live, paralleling the suffocating feeling that she gets from Peter and the way he is stripping her of her ability to breathe (to live freely) and to speak. She is unable to enjoy the present, the manifestation of supposed love between herself and Peter. Instead, it makes her feel grotesque, and she imagines that the symbol forces her into an act of violent consumption and murder, just like Peter is murdering her independence.
After a while I noticed with mild curiosity that a large drop of something wet had materialized on the table near my hand.
While at the bar with Peter, Len, and Ainsley, Marian begins to dissociate and doesn't notice herself crying. She loses the ability to control or even perceive her own body. This moment of dissociation parallels the alienation she feels from the people who surround her. She feels a disconnect with them, so strong that it also pushes her to disconnect from her own body and lose herself.
People noticed him, not because he had forceful or peculiar features, but because he was ordinariness raised to perfection, like the youngish well-groomed faces of cigarette ads.
Peter is a normal, attractive young man. Because of his conformity to standard ideals of physical appearance and work (he is on his way to becoming a successful lawyer), Marian feels obligated to love him. She desires to be normal, and Peter is the perfect normal complement to her initial desire for an average, unassuming life. Later on, she begins to find his normalcy stifling, since it also obscures him and renders him psychologically impenetrable. She never knows what he is feeling or thinking.
Peter is an ideal choice when you come to think of it. He's attractive and he's bound to be successful, and also he's neat, which is a major point when you're going to be living with someone.
This scene, where Marian attempts to convince herself that her engagement to Peter is a good idea, is the last scene before the narrative shifts to third-person—a moment that marks the loss of Marian's own voice, substituting third-person "she" for the active, first-person "I." This shift is prefaced by this moment, in which Marian outlines the "objective" benefit she stands to gain from marrying Peter. However, nowhere in this discussion she has with herself is there a mention of her feelings. Instead, she assesses him as an amalgamation of external benefits, erasing her own feelings and desires.
"'You didn't tell me it was a masquerade," he said at last. "Who the hell are you supposed to be?"
When Duncan sees Marian after she's put on makeup, done her hair, and dressed in a revealing dress for Peter's final party, he rejects her performed extreme femininity. This moment further establishes the extreme contrast between Peter and Duncan. Where Peter loves Marian's performance, telling her she looks "marvelous," Duncan is repelled by it. Although Duncan doesn't necessarily see Marian as a wholly liberated woman with her own agency, he differs from Peter in that he doesn't force Marian into a constrictive version of standard femininity, and therefore can serve as a partial escape for Marian while she is engaged to Peter.
She simply stood helpless while the tide of dirt rose around her, unable to stop it or evade it. The babies were like that too; her own body seemed somehow beyond her, going its own way without reference to any directions of hers.
Clara represents a woman who has lost herself to her role as a mother and a wife. Marian feels pity for her, and observes the "helplessness" that Clara experiences in her life as a result of her children, who create dirt and disorder that Clara is unable to control. Clara has no agency, unable to control her children and even unable to control her body, which ignores her "directions" and desires.
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...