Monday, August 20, 2012

The Edible Woman - Margaret Atwood

As I became more and more listless reading The Edible Woman I realized that it was a real testament to Margaret Atwood’s skill. The foggy overtone to the whole book reminded me a lot of The Bell Jar. It took me a while to realize how similar the books are. Both are about women sinking deeper into depression as they struggle in a male dominated world. But, more importantly, the women’s decline is subtle and slow. By the time you realize what is happening you’ve already been sucked down with them.

I have since learned to treat both Plath and Atwood with a wary caution. It’s strange that I, a willful, happy, and often liberated young woman could so easily adopt the hazy and muted reality of The Edible Woman and The Bell Jar. It could be because every woman at some point will feel consumed by society. It could also be because Atwood is such a talented writer. There is no escaping the mood she sets. It’s probably a bit of both. Regardless, I have decided to give myself some time to recover before attempting another statement on women’s liberation.

I think the most intriguing part of The Edible Woman was the switch from first person in part one, to third person in part two, and then back to first person in part three. Once Marian got engaged, Atwood started narrating in third person. We come to understand that Marian herself is no longer thinking of herself as an “I” but a “she.” You see this in the way that she no longer gets offended when people say something rude or dissmissive. She stops taking an interest in her own life and becomes a passive observer. Once Marian takes control and breaks off the engagement, she starts thinking of herself as an "I".

            The food issue is something I had to give a lot of thought to before I could come to any kind of decision. I’ve heard a lot different interpretations of Marian’s inability to eat, and mine is slightly different. I interpreted it as Marian’s switch from a consumer to a consumable. After her engagement she saw herself as an object, she became something for everyone else to consume. Only when she symbolically consumed herself at the end, was she able to make the switch back to first person and become a consumer herself.  

            I also found Ainsley’s dynamic interesting. She was essentially the exact opposite of Marian, and yet somehow was remarkably similar. Ainsley would say that she was striving to fulfill her femininity while Marian was denying it. Marian got into trouble by being a passive observer in her own life. Ainsley, on the other hand, calculated and planned until it blew up in her face. I think both women were frustrated by their gender's place in society, and both longed for fulfillment. Their desires and struggles were the same; they just went about it in very different ways. You could go so far as to say that all women are faced with the same battles, and need to learn to juggle their views of themselves with the social pressures they are presented with.

            The Edible Woman is still a bit of a mystery to me. I have this strange feeling that I understand it perfectly, but that it can’t be that simple and I must be missing something. Maybe if I was getting an MA in Literature instead of an MPH in Public Health I would understand it better, somehow I doubt it. 

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