Jun 26, 07
Read in August, 2006
** spoiler alert **
Written just before the founding of NOW, The Edible Woman is as relevant today as it was in 1965. The novel’s protagonist, Marian, has recently graduated from college and is working for a public opinion company. She is dating a man, Peter, who everyone thinks is perfect. Once engaged Marian begins to have trouble eating. As she is consumed by her relationship, she stops being able to consume food.
In the first sex scene in The Edible Woman, which is rich in messages and metaphors, Peter decides he wants to have sex in the bathtub. Marian agrees, but isn’t thrilled. She thinks Peter is attempting to act out things he read about. Sex in the bathtub, she decides, is a scene from a murder mystery he read. She notes: “but wouldn’t that [the scene Peter read about] rather be someone drowned in the bathtub? A woman.”
In the end, Marian breaks her engagement and tries to feed Peter a cake she made to look like herself, claiming that he wants to devour her. There is a clear feminist voice throughout the story and the message is not as simple as marriage consumes women. Marian decides that her independence is more important than a marriage to someone who does not let her be an individual.
The intersection between Marian’s sexuality and eating habits are salient in today’s popular culture. While The Edible Woman was written before eating disorders were discussed, they are now a big part of our culture. The relationship between food and sexuality is even fodder for situation comedy—Last night I watched a rerun of Friends in which Monica and Rachel show Chandler how to deal with being dumped “the women way.” They hand him soy-milk ice-cream and tell him that you have to eat healthy ice-cream when heartache happens frequently. When he gets really depressed they break out the full-fat Ben and Jerry’s.
The message is clear—when women are upset, it affects the way they eat. Unlike Monica and Rachel, who binge eat when they are upset, Marian responses to problems in her relationship by starving herself. Why did she stop eating? Does she want to starve the dependent person she had become? While in 1965 Atwood used the idea of food and Marian’s self imposed starvation as a metaphor, today the idea of a women starving herself as a relationship deteriorates is sadly a cliché.