The Edible Woman

The Edible Woman Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-15


Chapter 13 marks the beginning of Part II, in which the narrative voice shifts from first-person to third-person, referring to Marian by her name rather than revealing her internal monologue through her own voice using “I.” Marian sits at work and doodles, half-heartedly working on a survey about razor blades and feeling a sense of internal peace and calm. Since getting engaged to Peter, she no longer feels trapped by her job, since he’s made it clear that he will support her and she won’t have to work anymore once they’re married. The other women at the office praise her for her new calm demeanor.

Marian goes out to lunch with the other girls from the office, Emmy, Millie, and Lucy, and tells them that she is engaged. They congratulate her. Marian finds that even though she was starving at the office, once she gets to the restaurant, she feels no hunger at all. The women return to work and Joe Bates, Clara’s husband, calls Marian to tell Marian that Clara has had her baby.

Mrs. Bogue tells Marian, Emmy, Millie, and Lucy about the “Underwear Man,” a man who is calling women across the country and pretending to be conducting a survey about underwear, asking lewd questions and making the women uncomfortable in a sexually predatory manner. Marian leaves work and wonders who the Underwear Man could be. At first, she jokingly wonders if the Underwear Man could be Peter, but soon begins to consider the thought seriously. Marian believes that the Underwear Man could be Peter’s true self, the “core of his personality” that she feels she hasn’t discovered yet.

Marian arrives home as Ainsley is getting ready for a date with Len. Ainsley tells Marian that her plan to seduce Len and make him the father of her child has gone on too long; Ainsley had pretended to be more sexually withdrawn and prudish, but Len had taken this act too seriously and moved very slowly with courting her in order to not scare her off. Ainsley explains to Marian that it is time for action, and that Ainsley plans to invite Len over to their apartment after getting dinner with him. Ainsley wants Marian to leave the apartment to give Ainsley and Len some privacy. Marian decides to go to a movie.

At the movie, Marian sees the man from the laundromat, whose name she appears to have forgotten. He is eating pumpkin seeds. Marian hears a voice whisper in her ear, “pumpkin seeds,” and believes that she is hallucinating. When she arrives back home, her landlady questions her about the “man” that Ainsley led upstairs. Marian makes up an excuse for Ainsley in order to calm the landlady down. When Marian enters the apartment, she sees that Ainsley has taken Len into Marian’s bedroom, where they are most likely having sex, leaving Marian to sleep in Ainsley’s bed.

The next day, Marian goes to the hospital to visit Clara, skipping lunch so that she can make it on time during her break. Marian and Clara discuss the birth, and Marian grows uncomfortable as she considers the possibility of having a child with Peter. Clara begins to give Marian advice about marriage, telling Marian about how she discovered more about her husband, Joe, when they were married, and that he wasn’t as perfect as she thought he was. Marian feels offended and judges Clara, revealing within the narration that she pities Clara for “blundering” into a mess of a marriage, unlike her and Peter. Marian tries to lie to Clara and tell her that she thinks Joe is a wonderful husband, but Clara laughs and says that Marian is lying, accusing her of seeing Clara and Joe as “shiftless and disorganized,” although she says it all in a “good-natured” tone of voice. Marian feels uncomfortable and leaves.

As Marian walks through the hospital, she considers what clothing she has that is easy to iron. Although it’s initially unclear why she needs to find clothing to iron, it is revealed in a flashback that the man from the laundromat, Duncan, called Marian while she was at work and apologized for scaring her during the movie. He asked her for her help, explaining that he needs new clothing to iron because he has ironed all of the clothing he has in his own house. Marian agrees to bring some items over, even though it means she will have to postpone dinner with Peter. Returning to present reality, Marian realizes she was so deeply engrossed in her thoughts that she has missed the exit. She returns to the elevator and leaves the hospital.


The shift in narrative perspective from first-person to third-person is a crucial turning point for Marian, as it strips away the reader’s ability to identify directly with her through the use of the “I” pronoun, and instead creates a distance between the reader and Marian. The change in perspective also strips away Marian’s direct voice. Instead of her thoughts being relayed through her own dialogue and internal monologue, they are now mediated by the third-person omniscient voice, one that is not Marian’s own. The change in narrative voice comes after Marian’s engagement; thus, it is the engagement that alienates Marian and takes away her ability to speak for herself.

The Underwear Man symbolizes Marian’s inability to understand Peter, as well as her desire to unearth a “true” Peter that she feels she hasn’t yet accessed. Although it begins as a joke, she seriously considers the possibility that Peter could be the Underwear Man, wondering if Peter harbors some form of sexual perversion that she doesn’t know about. Her desire to see Peter as the Underwear Man also reveals that Marian is searching for a “dark” interiority to Peter that contrasts with his external perfection. Over the course of the novel, Marian describes Peter through his exterior features: his hair, his job, his apartment, and his speech are all mentioned, but rarely does Marian appear to understand in depth Peter’s motivations or decisions. The Underwear Man is a figure with a motivation and purpose: sexual perversion. If Peter was the Underwear Man, his exterior facade, which has thus remained unbroken, would be shattered and reveal imperfect desires. His character, and his relationship to Marian, would cease to be flat.

Marian’s alienation from her friends continues to intensify as she fails to express any dissent or opinions about their decisions. When Ainsley asks Marian if she can use Marian’s room (and bed) to have sex with Len, Marian doesn’t protest, even though the action violates a clear physical boundary between Marian and Ainsley. Ainsley breaks all of the boundaries between herself and Marian, first encroaching upon Len—who Marian refers to as “my friend” when thinking about her disapproval of Ainsley’s plan to make him father her child—and then encroaching upon Marian’s physical room. Instead of responding to these violations, however, Marian behaves in the same way she has over the course of the entire novel: by physically escaping the situation and going to the movies, passively maintaining her silence.

In the beginning of Part Two, we also witness Marian expressing judgments about others that parrot societal norms, rather than contradicting or questioning them. When Clara explains details of her marriage to Joe, Marian deeply judges the couple and compares them to herself and Peter. Whereas previously, Marian believed that she and Peter were not meant to be a lasting pair, she now begins to frame their relationship as superior to Clara and Joe’s. Marian criticizes Clara and Joe for “blunder[ing]” into their marriage before stating that she (Marian) and Peter are going into their marriage with far “fewer illusions.” This statement is deeply ironic, given that in the chapter previously, Marian admits that she doesn’t know who Peter truly is as she imagines that he could be the Underwear Man.

Marian’s decision to see Duncan again—a decision that she keeps secret from Ainsley and Peter—allows Marian to have another physical escape from the routines that she feels trapped in. Duncan creates a secret, alternate life for Marian that no one else knows about. He contrasts every other character that surrounds Marian by mirroring her thoughts, as he does when he calls her and tells her he knew she wanted to ask him what he was eating in the movie theatre. When she was in the theatre, she had observed him eating, but was too scared to ask what it was. He whispered, out loud, that they were pumpkin seeds, even though Marian did not ask. Unlike Peter, Ainsley, or Len, Duncan is able to give Marian what she desires without asking. He treats Marian as an individual, whereas all the other characters in the novel treat her only as the function she represents to them. To Peter, she is a “sensible” girl and his future wife; to Ainsley, she is a roommate and a way to get access to Len; to her boss, Mrs. Brogue, she is one of the workers. Only with Duncan is she able to be herself, and not just be what she is expected to be or assumed to be by others.