The Edible Woman

The Edible Woman Summary and Analysis of Chapters 29-31


Marian and Duncan go to a diner after their night at the motel. It is implied that, in the end, they were able to have sex, although Marian feels unsatisfied and a lack of closure. She declines any food, unable to eat at all. After eating a plate of eggs and ham (an act that disgusts Marian to the point of physical nausea), Duncan tries to leave, telling Marian that he wishes to retreat back into his “shell.” She begs him to stay, which he initially refuses, dismissing her and telling her that if he stayed, she would no longer be an escape for him because he would start to care about her problems and about her.

Eventually, Duncan agrees to stay for a little longer with Marian. They walk, and he leads her to a ravine. They sit together and talk; Marian tells Duncan that she doesn’t know what to do about Peter. Duncan acts dismissive, telling her that he has no advice for her. She asks him how the sex was for him the previous night and he tells her it was just “as good as usual.” Marian realizes that she wasn’t his first sexual partner, which devastates her. She feels naive for thinking that she was his first and imposing some sense of meaning and emotional intimacy onto the night. Marian asks Duncan to come talk to Peter with her. He refuses, telling her it wouldn’t be “good for [him]" i.e., Duncan.

Marian goes home. Peter calls her, furious that she left the party. He tells her she ruined the party for him, recounting how he searched for her so that she could be in a group photo. Marian invites him over for tea and he agrees to come. She decides to conduct a test to see what in her life is “real.”

Marian goes to the grocery store and purchases ingredients for a cake. When she comes back to her apartment, she begins preparing the cake, carefully planning out what kind of cake to make and what she wants to put in it. She makes the cake into the shape of a woman, decorating it with a dress and a face. When Peter arrives, she presents him with the cake and tells him that he has been trying to “destroy” and “assimilate” her, and that the cake is a substitute for her that he can continue to destroy. However, Peter doesn’t agree to eat the cake, and leaves the apartment unceremoniously, barely speaking to Marian and appearing embarrassed.

Marian begins to eat the cake by herself. She hears Ainsley coming into the apartment, and Fish is with her; it is implied that they have spent the night together. Ainsley, seeing that Marian is eating the cake, exclaims that Marian is rejecting her femininity. Marian disregards her and says that what Ainsley has said is nonsense.

The final chapter marks the beginning of “Part III,” where the narrative returns to the first-person, with Marian narrating once more. Marian is cleaning her apartment. She receives a call from Duncan, who asks her what happened with Peter. She tells him that she realized Peter was trying to destroy her, and that she is now looking for another job, implying that she left him and is moving. Duncan tells her that he wasn’t trying to ask about Peter, and that he was actually wondering what happened between Ainsley and Fish. In a state of distress, he tells her that Fish has “abandoned his responsibilities,” and explains that Fish’s responsibility is taking care of him (Duncan). Without Fish, Duncan says he feels lost.

Marian tells Duncan that she doesn’t know how to help him, but when Duncan asks her to be more sympathetic towards him (mentioning how he was sympathetic to her distress over Peter), she invites him over to her apartment. Duncan comes to the apartment and Marian tells him that Fish and Ainsley have gotten married, and that they’ve left to go on a honeymoon. Duncan appears dejected and says that he will have to move out of his apartment. Duncan asks Marian if she is eating again. With pride, she tells him that she is, and that she had a steak for lunch. When he asks her why she looks so much happier, she tells him that it’s because she realized Peter was trying to destroy her. Duncan, however, doesn’t believe her, saying that she is “ridiculous” and that Peter wasn’t trying to destroy her. He says that she made it up, and that she (Marian) was actually trying to destroy Peter. Duncan then reverses his narrative, and says that he (Duncan) was trying. Evidently joking, he begins to explain how all of them are destroying each other.

Marian offers Duncan some of the leftover cake. She brings him the remainder of the cake, which is the woman’s head. Duncan devours the cake voraciously and tells her it was delicious.


When Marian feeds Peter the cake, she fails to gain the catharsis that she desires by giving him a female body to literally devour, as he has been spiritually devouring her over the course of their relationship. However, this apparent failure doesn’t impede the resolution of her internal conflict; as he refuses the cake, she is freed from his presence, no longer a body that he wishes to devour. His refusal, and the end of their relationship, allows Marian to regain her ability to eat. While she felt consumed by Peter, she, herself, could not become a consumer. She imagined life within everything she ate, and the very act of consumption became a cannibalistic one. Once she ceases to be consumed, she is free from the burden of imagining everything she eats as alive—she is free from the fear of becoming as oppressive as Peter.

The end of the novel creates a puzzling resolution. Over the course of the novel’s events, Marian and Duncan’s relationship appears to oscillate between being a source of comfort and a source of dissatisfaction. When she gives the cake to Duncan, he devours her head, mimicking the same process of consumption that initially disgusted Marian as she watched Peter eating a steak at the beginning of the novel and doing what Peter refused to do by running away from Marian's offering of the cake. The scene creates ambiguity; will Duncan become another consumer of Marian and her body?

The symbolism of the cake, and the fact that Duncan consumes the head of the cake, implies that Duncan, too, is consuming Marian’s mind and her most important feature, her thoughts. However, the full extent of this implication remains uncertain: does the scene mean that he already has consumed her, since she feels some desire or attachment towards him? Does it imply that he will consume her in the future, that he will become another Peter, devouring her? Will she willingly present herself to him so that he can assimilate her, rather than Peter?

Furthermore, the fact that it is Marian, herself, who gives Duncan the cake makes the scene all the more complex. Is she implicating herself within her own oppression by offering up her metaphorical female body to be consumed? When Marian bakes the cake, she expresses pity for the cake, simultaneously expressing pity for the female body and experience that the cake represents. She pities the female cake-body, and yet, still gives it to Duncan to consume, fulfilling its destruction. She allows Duncan—the representative of male power—to consume the female cake, destroying the body that she pities. Is she ridding herself of her own body, her own female form that she pities—and is this an act of empowerment?

While Marian’s own fate and desires remain opaque, the ending does allow for one narrative line to end with clean finality. The trajectory of Ainsley’s pursuit of pregnancy comes to a close when she marries Fish. Ainsley’s narrative is deeply ironic, and offers a portrayal of a woman who, despite all of her own assertions, is unable to escape her traditional female role. Despite vowing to raise a child on her own, without a man, Ainsley is the one character who ends up married and tethered to a man: a total reversal of her initial intentions or her proclamations of being a single, self-sufficient woman.