Margaret Atwood’s Illustration of Elaine Risley’s Divine Experience as Depicted in Her Book, Cat's Eye: [Essay Example], 870 words GradesFixer
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Margaret Atwood’s Illustration of Elaine Risley’s Divine Experience as Depicted in Her Book, Cat's Eye

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Cat’s Eye, by Margaret Atwood is a novel which depicts the journey of its protagonist Elaine Risley. Her physical and spiritual journey are reflected in a Cat’s Eye marble which eventually enables her to see and understand her journey, as we as readers already have. It is only when Elaine completes her journey does she “see [her] life entire”.

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In Chapter 1 of Cat’s Eye, it was stated that “[Elaine] began then to think of time as having a shape… You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing”. The reader is introduced to the way in which Atwood depicts Elaine’s journey, and the way in which she (Elaine) views her own life. We see Elaine set off on a physical journey to her childhood town, Toronto. It is this physical journey that mirrors Elaine’s spiritual journey to self-realization and enlightenment. As Elaine reaches new destinations, she has retrospectives or flashbacks to a significant incident in her life which has ‘helped’ form her current spiritual state.

We first meet Elaine and Cordelia (the ‘best friend’ and tormentor) in the first section of the novel, ‘Iron Lung’. They are traveling in a street car in Toronto. The idea of a journey/traveling is set up immediately for the reader. “Stephen says time is not a line” are the first words written in the novel. This sums up the structure of Cats Eye and Elaine’s life. This section of the novel is written in the present tense, like we the readers are actually with the 13 year old Elaine. However, it quickly jumps to Elaine at age 43 and we learn that she is having a retrospective back to her childhood. It is then revealed that she is [physically at Toronto now, walking through the streets, reflecting on childhood events (“I’ve reached the place where we used to get off the streetcar”). Simply being at Toronto brings back her repressed feelings and emotions from her childhood “[she] can feel [her] throat tightening, a pain along the jaw line. [She has] started to chew [her] fingers again. There’s blood, a taste [she] remembers…” Events such as these occur throughout the novel to show Elaine’s journey. This particular event sets off Elaine’s spiritual journey back to her childhood, and the torment that she suffered at the hands of Cordelia.

Another way in which the novel depicts Elaine’s journey is through her art. Elaine Risley is a painter and has developed enough of a reputation to be included in the “retrospective” art exhibition. Eventually, these paintings help her to see “[her] life entire”, however for a long period of time she doesn’t actually understand what the paintings mean and the reasons why she created them. Her memory repression is revealed when her paintings are described by Charna and Elaine realizes that she doesn’t actually know what they are about. The paintings document Elaine’s journey, highlighting important events in the journey. They are an expression of her memories through her sub-conscious. In Elaine’s “Empire Bloomers” series, two images of authority, Mrs. Smeath and Miss Lumley’s bloomers converge, showing Elaine’s hatred of two characters that terrorized her as a child. This reveals her sub-conscious hatred towards them however she is unable to understand that this is the reason for the painting. Another predominant painting that created a ‘visual’ aid to her journey was the “Three Muses”. Elaine (until she completes her journey) fails to recognize that the three people in the painting (Mrs. Feinstein, Miss Steward and Mr. Banerji) are displaced people, such as herself. She sub-consciously relates to these people, but again, only when her journey is complete does she recognize this.

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In Leprosy, Elaine realizes that at some point (she is unsure when), the power between Cordelia and herself is reversed, making her the stronger of the pair. She describes the only painting that she ever completed of Cordelia, however the description is indirect and she states “[she] had trouble with this picture”. She couldn’t fix Cordelia at “one time, at one age”, or at a singular point in Elaine’s journey. Cordelia has been there all along. This is another point of the journey in which Elaine begins to understand their strange relationship. “I’m not afraid of seeing Cordelia. I’m afraid of being Cordelia, because in someway we changed places, and I’ve forgotten when”. In this power change, Elaine develops her “mean mouth”. Cordelia was her “target practice” and the other girls at her school thought “Elaine [was] a riot”. This is a major point in her journey as it is such a contrast to the younger Elaine and Cordelia and how they behaved.

The ‘Listener’ said “Not since… has a novelist captured so forcefully the relationship between school bully and victim” about Atwood and Cat’s Eye. In my opinion, never has a novelist depicted the journey of a single character in such an intriguing and captivating manner. Elaine’s many physical journeys led to spiritual enlightenment and finally, the understanding and acceptance of her childhood trauma. It was only when this occurred that Elaine could continue her journey, without Cordelia, once “her best friend and tormentor” haunting her.

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Margaret Atwood’s Illustration of Elaine Risley’s Divine Experience as Depicted in Her Book, Cat’s Eye. (2019, February 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 16, 2021, from
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Margaret Atwood’s Illustration of Elaine Risley’s Divine Experience as Depicted in Her Book, Cat’s Eye. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 Apr. 2021].
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