April 12, 2013 by Vicki
Today, I start my series of discussions on Margaret Atwood’s fictional novels in chronological order. The Edible Woman is Margaret Atwood’s first published novel. I found The Edible Woman absolutely hilarious. The book is a dark comedy which examines the consumer society of the early 1960’s in Canada. Margaret Atwood has described this book as “proto-feminist” as it was written before the peak of feminist activity during the 1960s. In the book, we confront feminist issues but no real solution presents itself. She simply invites us to laugh at the absurdity of the situations which she presents.
The Edible Woman is told from the perspective of the main protagonist, Marian. Marian is living what she considers a “normal” life. In the beginning of the novel, Marian’s boyfriend, Peter, proposes to her. From here, Marian’s life starts to spiral into chaos as she slowly loses the ability to eat. Her body simply will not allow her to eat certain foods. The list of prohibited foods grows until, near the end of the novel, it prohibits even vitamin pills.
Marian never thinks critically about her situations and life. In the second part of the novel, Marian starts to refer to herself in the third person. She regards her own body as something that is separate and is being obstinate against reason. Having a character so removed from her situation only heightens the feeling of absurdity and dark comedy in the novel. Marian’s subconscious seems to be much more aware of her emotions then Marian herself. Even before Peter proposes, we have a scene where Marian dashes away from Peter without having any conscious understanding as to why she is running. As the chase progresses, however, Marian identifies herself as prey and Peter as the feared hunter. Once Peter captures her, Marian regains control of her senses and expresses relief at being held. Clearly, the author presents a much divided character as the main protagonist and the narrator of the novel.
Marian’s lack of critical reasoning, regarding her situation, allows the reader to perceive and recognize the problems inherent in a consumer society. Marian, however, is never forced to find a solution. Marian, for example, clearly understands that she cannot rise higher in her occupation. She explains that management positions remain male-dominated. She, however, regards this as “normal” and is not outraged by her own lack of opportunity. She does not react to the chauvinism surrounding her.
All of Marian’s male friends are chauvinists whom Marian regards as upstanding specimens of their gender. Her one friend, Joe, argues women should not be allowed to go to University. He argues women inevitably lose their own person-hood, anyway, so it is cruel to allow them to experience what they will eventually lose. Marian considers Joe a heroic figure who has rescued her friend Clara. Clara has remained pregnant since the day she married Joe. Marian, however, cannot see the connection between Joe’s belief’s and Clara’s situation. Marian’s narrative displays the full absurdity of the chauvinistic consumer society without ever fighting against it.
Margaret Atwood’s first novel, The Edible Woman, cannot be considered a Feminist novel because it does not, directly, argue for change. It does represent the existing situation from a satiric perspective and allow the reader to decide on their own actions. I enjoyed the novel and found it deliciously amusing. I also found it much easier to read then expected, I had read Surfacing in University and found it
extremely difficult. The Edible Woman is a lighter read with darker undertones. I will be reading Surfacing next and will have a discussion post on the novel up for April 26, 2013.