Marian is an average college-educated woman who lives with a roommate in a decent apartment, works for a survey company, is moderately good looking, and has a handsome fiancé who is on his way to being a big shot lawyer. It sounds like life altogether is going pretty well for Marian. Yet for some reason she feels empty, why?
The Edible Woman explores the themes of losing a sense of self with maturity. At work she is pushed around, her roommate Ainsley is inconsiderate, the landlady is judgmental, and her boyfriend Peter is self centered and makes snide comments at Marian’s expense. With each encounter Marian puts aside her pride for the sake of avoiding conflict. Marian expresses her problems through eating, or the lack thereof, hinting at a potential eating disorder. Just as she feels inhibited in life, she suddenly feels inhibited with the kinds of food that she can eat.
As the story continues she begins to dread marriage and question the direction her life is going—becoming just as listless as her friend and former classmate Clara, who after marriage and three pregnancies just seems beaten down. Marian’s fiancé Peter is the stereotypical perfect bachelor: a man’s man that looks down on women and views marriage as a ball and chain. Peter pushes Marian around in order to mold her into a subservient woman. There is no longer any room for her thoughts, her feelings, or her desires from under his shadow.
“They had been pathetically eager to have the wedding in the family church. Their reaction though, as far as she could estimate the reactions of people who were now so remote from her, was less elated glee than a quiet, rather smug satisfaction, as though their fears about the effects of her university education, never stated but always apparent, had been calmed at last.”
But what about work? What are women’s roles in society and the work force? Throughout the story there are several women including Marian with college educations, yet none of them really have a stable career. Women are expected to be wives and mothers, there’s simply no time for an education or a job. In this case, their educations are ultimately viewed as their downfall due to the crushing reality of how little opportunity they would have. This was the very sad truth at the time the book was written and thankfully is not exactly the case now in most parts of the world.
Atwood tackles a large number of social issues throughout the book that I think would be important for any young woman. Adulthood, relationships, marriage, the choice between work and education versus starting a family, and lastly feminism—both good and bad.
There are certain elements of the book that are becoming quite dated. Namely the typewriters, the social expectation that all women can be are housewives, and the limited ways that women can dress; these things might make it difficult for young women to look past and relate to the main character. Despite this the book is still incredibly relevant in the message that it brings about maintaining one’s individuality. I absolutely love this book and found a lot of my former self in it’s pages.
Ever since her engagement, the strangest thing has been happening to Marian McAlpin: she can’t eat. First meat. Then eggs, vegetables, cake, pumpkin seeds–everything! Worse yet, she has the crazy feeling that she’s being eaten. Marian ought to feel consumed with passion, but she really just feels…consumed.