The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood: Part 2 There's so many ways to explore the lead up to the creation of The Edible Woman I'm almost lost. Do I go into Atwood's resolve to create a successful novel set in Canada in an effort to prove the critics wrong? What about the references to advertising campaigns and marketing techniques and how they evolved? There even a strong eye of design in the novel, intentionally describing colors that clash outdated styles with cutting edge design for the 1960s to create a sense of unbalance. But no. I believe I will go into the names after one indulgent diversion. At one point in the novel, Marian is convinced to dress in a sexier way, with much makeup and a bright red dress. Her fiancé, Peter, questions why she would even consider it and hints that she looks completely ridiculous. Jezebel, anyone? Only in this case, the Jezebel character, Julie (here Marian) is obsessed with doing everything the right way, and the Preston character (here Peter) has full control over everything. The embarrassment over the decision and the mocking display of the get-up is reversed from an emotional standpoint and really pushes the gender rhetoric further. Onto the names. Atwood intentionally picked names for the novel that evoked certain ideas. Marian, for example, might make you think of Maid Marian, or perhaps even Marian the Librarian. It's a meek and mild association, a proper woman who does everything right and wouldn't dare stick a toe out of line. They are wooed and caught by men that don't initially seem to be perfect matches based on differences. Atwood preys on this idea throughout the novel, starting at the moment of the happily ever after and slowly destroying it. What of a character like Ainsley? Is it a coincidence that a traditionally male name was given to the female character who decides the problem with families is the existence of a father? The woman who decides to prey on a pedophile to become impregnated and be a single mother? Probably not. The fact that the origins are Old English may have had something to do with it as well, since Marian and Ainsley are roommates in the novel. A trickier name to decipher a historical context for is Clara. Most likely, this is one of the play on word names that occurs throughout the novel, placing the mother of two with a third on the way as a source of clarity. Judging from the census information on Clara, it would have been a very prevalent name at the time, adding in the possibility of Clara being chosen to signify the wife and mother route as the normal way of life. More fun can be had with the names of the men, and intentionally so. Why else would a man named Fisher be called "Fish" and considered a good catch in the novel? Atwood is playing with associations to push her purpose to the forefront without beating the reader over the head with needless explanation. Take Duncan, for example. Duncan is a depressed graduate student obsessed with death. He's ghostly pale and rail thin. Aside from Duncan being a strange name for a strange character, it happens to be the name of the murdered king in Macbeth. Marian is almost haunted by the presence of this strange student who claims to know, in jest or in truth, exactly what she is going through and what she plans to do at all times. Peter, Marian's perfect fiancé, is probably a reference to Saint Peter. He's strong, grounded, and willing to guide Marian to every decision she needs to make. He's her key to a higher quality of life than she currently lives, and he guards that possibility by taking control of the wedding plans. Another distinct aspect of the character seems to connect with Peter and the Wolf, in that Peter's hunting instincts and experience are brought out by other characters; he's almost guiding others to prey on Marian's weakness without even realizing it. I'm short on time, so I'll have to end it here. Please return on Saturday to see what bizarre and wonderful work Atwood's The Edible Woman has influenced in various ways.
Labels: ainsley, clara, duncan, edible woman, fisher, jezebel, margaret atwood, marian, peter