IRJE: The Edible Woman

In The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood, Marian starts off living a simple, ordinary life. She works in a market research firm, in which even she defines as “expected”, as opposed to her progressive roommate, Ainsley’s, job of testing electric toothbrushes. Marian’s structured life is quite work-oriented, which is unfortunate because she finds it quite dull. In the novel, we’re introduced to Peter, who’s proposal is the provocation of Marian’s inability to eat. This novel features heavy roles of feminism, touches on the struggles of finding one’s own self-identity, and demonstrates what impacts a single action can have on someone’s life. Before Marian and Peter’s engagement, and Marian’s developing eating disorder emerges, she visits Clara, who’s life isn’t as put together as it used to be in high school and university, which the following passage describes.

In that classroom full of oily potato-chip-fattened adolescents she was everyone’s ideal of translucent perfume-advertisement femininity. At university she had been a little healthier, but had grown her blonde hair long, which made he look more medieval than ever: I had thought of her in connection with the ladies sitting in rose gardens on tapestries. Of course her mind wasn’t like that, but I’ve always been influenced by appearances. (p. 34)

After reading ahead of this extract, then reexamining it, I noticed a similarity between Marian and Clara’s life, that I believe this was a foreshadowing of. I found this passage extremely interesting, because after university, it seems that Clara’s life unraveled. She’s now a woman with several children, which she struggles to take care of, even with her husband’s help. In school, she was seen as essentially perfect, even though it was only in an external way. Now, her household is messy, her hygiene has become irrelevant, and her organization is basically non-existent. At the beginning of this novel, Marian had a very organized routine, and a sane life, which was, like Clara, more or less perfect. But after her engagement, that also falls apart, and causes her appetite to disappear. They’re both trying to work out their lives: for Clara, how to manage her household, and for Marian, discovering herself and what she wants in life. Upon first glance, Clara and Marian don’t seem to be similar, however they both lost their sense of perfection, and replaced it with an undesired, and unhealthy habit.