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Analysis of The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood


The Edible Woman

The Edible Woman –

Margaret Atwood wrote and published The Edible Woman in 1969. It is a novel that helped Atwood establish herself as a prose writer. Margaret Atwood enjoyed her success as a poet since 1961. She was one of the leading Canadian writers of that generation. Now she is the author of 30 books of prose and verse. Her books have been translated in over 20 languages. She is the recipient of Governor General’s Award twice for the books of poems, The Circle Game and The Handmaid’s Tale. Her novels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times, the latest being Alias Grace in 1996. The Edible Woman is a story of a young woman who is structured and gentle but suddenly slips out of focus. She goes through some strange emotions but finally comes out of it.


Marian MacAlpin is a market researcher living with her friend Ainsley and has a boyfriend called Peter. Marian is a polite, lovely and smiling girl. Ainsley is totally different from Marian. She does not follow the rules and finds her flatmate very dull and boring. Peter loves Marian but is considered as a boring person by Marian. He was a lawyer and thinks he would be successful eventually and marrying would be a safe bet. Ainsley, on the other hand, did want to marry but wanted a child and she was looking out for someone who would impregnate her.

Ainsley meets Len who was known for his flings with naïve young girls and then leaving them. Len also happens to be a friend of Marian. Marian has a dinner date with Peter and Len and Ainsley walks in dressed as a young girl. Eventually, she manages to attract Len and her wish of carrying his baby is achieved. Marian chances to meet Duncan on one of her surveys. He catches her attention with his eccentric and atypical answers for her survey on beer. Duncan was a graduate student in English.

After meeting Duncan there were some changes in Marian but most of it was seen in her food habits. At the dinner date Peter narrates a rabbit hunt to Len and Marian finds herself disassociating from her body. She went crazy and ran out of the restaurant. Peter chased her that night and finally proposed to her. Marian and Duncan chance to meet again in a Laundromat, they have a strange conversation and end up kissing. Shortly afterwards Marian finds that she was empathizing with the steak she and Peter had ordered and she could not eat the steak. From this day she could not eat meat. Len comes to talk to Marian about Ainsley’s pregnancy and in the conversation, he reveals his fear for eggs and from that day Marian could not eat favourite soft-boiled eggs. This extends to vegetables and cakes.

wedding with Marian

Meanwhile, Peter throws a party to celebrate his announcement of the wedding with Marian. Duncan is also invited. Marian is a simple girl but Peter goads her to buy a new dress and do a makeover for the party. When Duncan comes he is shocked on seeing Marian so made and takes a jibe at her. “You didn’t tell me it was a masquerade. Who the hell are you supposed to be?” Saying this Duncan leaves and Marian follows him and then share some intimate moments. Next morning Marian realizes she cannot eat anything at all. Marian realizes that Peter was devouring her. To prove this she bakes a cake in the shape of a woman and dares him to eat. She also tells him what she felt of him devouring her. Peter is upset and leaves the place. Now Marian is hungry and starts eating the cake. The novel closes with Duncan entering the apartment and finishing off the cake.


The main theme of the novel is femininity but there are different shades of it. Marian is gentle and feminine. She knows her boyfriend is boring but she does not break the norms and leave him. Marian bears with him knowing he will be successful in life and that she will have a contented married life. She is so simple that it takes pressure from her boyfriend for her to buy a new dress and put on some makeup. This is Marian while Anisley is at the other end of the scale. She feels her femininity will be fructified only if she has a baby. But she is not willing to go through the hassles of getting married; she is on the lookout of a man who will impregnate her. She understands Len is easy prey and to get him into the work she dresses up as a young girl. Len falls into this plan unwittingly.

Marian towards the end of the novel realises that her boyfriend was only trying to devour her and that she was just being nice and not really in love with Peter. The play closes with Duncan coming to the apartment and this can mean that her femininity is stirred by Duncan.

The quirky behaviour of Marian is the thread that is seen through most of the novel. The quirkiness is her emotions towards food items. At first, she runs away from the dinner date after hearing the tale of a rabbit hunt. On another occasion, she sees the steak on her plate as a living thing. Then come eggs, vegetables and cakes. It culminates in when she cannot eat any of her breakfast. Towards the end of the novel, she breaks this jinx on her.


The narrative takes on first-person towards the end of the novel. There is symbolism in the gingham dress, baby, cake and iron. The gingham dress is a symbol of innocence. Anisley dresses up in this costume to look younger than her actual age to seduce Len. Anisleybelieves she can raise a baby independently; so the baby represents independence. The cake in the shape of a woman symbolises women and making the men eat is symbolic of the fact that men always devouring women without the women getting any say. Duncan is the only who is not dominating over women and does have any stereotypes in his mind. He irons his own clothes and does not believe that it demeans him. Iron stands for true masculinity.

Margaret Atwood is best known for her novel The Handmaid’s Tale. But, The Edible Woman, is very different, and it explores love, marriage and a little temporary psychological disorder. The Edible Woman shatters the old view of a woman’s role in society. Like all the other stories The Edible Woman is a thought-provoking novel.