The Edible Woman

The Edible Woman Summary and Analysis of Chapters 24-26


Marian prepares for a large party that Peter is throwing. She goes to a hairdresser, an experience that she likens to being in the hospital and getting surgery; she narrates how she is prodded, wheeled from room to room, and examined. She also gets her makeup done and picks up a red sequined dress that the saleswoman convinced her to buy, even though Marian feels it isn’t her style at all.

When Marian arrives back at her apartment, she finds Ainsley and Len arguing. Len proclaims that he has no desire to act as a father to Ainsley’s child and accusing her of taking advantage of him the night that they had sex, since she fed him alcohol to the point of him blacking out. She pleads with him, begging him to take on the responsibility, but he refuses and leaves the apartment, screaming at both Ainsley and Marian and calling them a series of derogatory, misogynistic terms. Ainsley appears calm after the fight and retreats to her room, appearing “settled” with the situation.

Marian decides to start getting ready for the party. She takes a bath, where she notices her reflection and marvels at how the image before her appears so distant and dissociated. When she gets out, she puts on a girdle—another item of clothing that the saleswoman at the department store had convinced her to buy, telling her that even though Marian is thin, she wouldn’t want to be caught not wearing one, implying that women must wear girdles when they attend any sort of party or formal occasion.

Marian begins to feel nervous about the party and, out of desperation, calls Duncan and invites him to the party. He flippantly tells her he might come, along with Trevor and Fish. Marian also calls Clara, Joe, and her coworkers (the “office virgins”) and invites them. Ainsley comes into the room and does Marian’s nails and makeup. When Ainsley finishes, Marian looks in the mirror and barely recognizes herself. Ainsley tells her to appear alluring and sexy, but Marian is ashamed that she doesn't know how to move her face or body in such a manner.

As Ainsley and Marian leave for the party, they run into their landlady. She begins to accost them, telling them that she has noticed their drinking and that she knows Len stayed overnight, among other actions that she cites as improper and abhorrent. The landlady tells Marian and Ainsley that she has had enough of them setting a “bad example” for her child, implying that both Marian and Ainsley are sexually promiscuous and openly judging them for their makeup and revealing dresses. Ainsley accuses the landlady of being a hypocrite and tells her that she, herself, is also having a baby that she wants to protect, and that she would never want her own baby around the “bad example” that the landlady sets.

Peter arrives at the apartment to pick Marian up so they can get things ready for the party. Marian tells him that she’s invited more guests, to which Peter responds positively. They go back to Peter's apartment. Peter jokes that he never knew Marian had so many friends he’s never met, before asking her to arrange things on plates, stating that “women are so much better at arranging things," to which Marian silently agrees and begins to get things ready for the party.

After she’s done, she goes into the bedroom and looks at herself in the mirror. She is uncomfortable with how dressed up and unlike herself she is, but reminds herself that Peter complimented her liberally, telling her how attractive she looked and alluding to the fact that he wished there was time for them to “go to bed together” before the party. Peter comes into the room and tells her once more how she looks stunning, remarking how the red dress flatters her. He asks to take a couple photos of her. Marian is uncomfortable and at first aggressively refuses in a manner that is out of character for her. She then agrees to let him take her photograph, although while he takes the photographs, she feels stiff and deeply unsettled. After Peter is finished, she wonders why she was so unsettled, telling herself that they were only photographs, and that she shouldn’t have reacted so negatively.


As Marian prepares for Peter’s party, she goes through the process of completely shedding herself and becoming a woman that is not her—Peter’s fiancée, not Marian. Her trips to get her hair and makeup done, as well as her visit to the department store to pick up a dress, frame her as an object being acted upon by external forces. These external forces act as reinforcement of standard feminine ideals; they force her to perform extreme femininity. The femininity that the hairdresser, makeup artist, and clothing saleswoman impose upon Marian is an extremely constricting and painful once, characterized by discomfort. The act itself is violent.

The hairdresser is described as a surgeon literally pulling “stitches” out of Marian, and at the hair salon, Marian is “wheeled” from room to room as if on a gurney. She is totally passive during the process, carted back and forth by the employees. The whole experience serves as an extended allegory for the female experience of being forced into gender norms and beauty ideals. It also furthers Marian's continuous passivity in regards to the gender roles that are enforced upon her. She agrees and remains silent, just like she has silently agreed to the mundane and frustrating nature of her job, and to Peter constantly asking her to act like a standard wife doing household chores and fulfilling a domestic, banal role.

The beauty ideals that Marian is forced into in order to be appropriately dressed for the party make Marian a woman that is not herself. When she looks in the mirror after she has put makeup on, she doesn’t recognize herself. Instead of seeing Marian, she sees a “person she had never seen before.” She is not herself—instead, she is a person, a stranger that she has no name for and doesn’t know.

Because of this unsettling separation Marian feels between herself and the woman she becomes when going to the party, it is all the more meaningful that Peter positively responds to this performed, false version of Marian. When she asks him if he loves her, he tells her that he does. In doing so, he is telling the false Marian that he loves her. He loves the version of Marian that is an embodiment of standard, oppressive femininity. This false Marian is the one that he finds sexually attractive and appealing. It becomes obvious that Peter doesn’t love, nor does he really know, Marian, and is instead in love with an oppressed woman—a woman that is good at arranging plates, as he asks Marian to do, telling her that women are “so good” at it. Not only does he love the performed Marian, but he treats her as the rigid, oppressed woman, delegating her to “feminine” tasks.

The final scene of Chapter 27 is rife with symbolism. The camera that Peter points at Marian functions as a physical symbol of his desire to trap her. To take a photograph is to cement someone in two dimensions; he is immortalizing Marian’s performance of femininity. His camera functions as a symbol of the male gaze. By taking a photo of her in her extravagantly feminine dress and makeup, he wants to remember a false version of Marian. She responds with discomfort, and although she is unable to identify where this discomfort originates, it is implied that it stems from this process of becoming trapped and preyed upon by the male gaze.