Thursday, March 20, 2008

Cat's Eye, First Round of Questions

1. What does Margaret Atwood's novel Cat's Eye say about the nature of childhood and the development of adolescent friendships? Is there a gender influenced difference in cruelty between boys as opposed to cruelty as expressed by girls?

2. In the opening line of the novel, the narrator, artist Elaine Risley, who returns to the city of her birth for a retrospective of her painting, observes: "Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space . . . if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once." How do you interpret this statement?

3. Elaine is haunted by Cordelia, her "best friend" and the tormentor of her childhood. All predators must have a motive. What benefit did Cordelia receive out of tormenting Elaine? What weakness in Elaine made her particularly vulnerable to Cordelia? Why did she continue to play such importance in Elaine's adult life?

8 comments:

Lara said...

Oh, crap. How did it get to be March 20 already and I haven't even bought the book yet?!?!?

Michaelann said...

1. She shows us how different boys and girls truely are. Boys will physically assult each other but girls will emotionally and verbally assult each other. Girls will also suffer quietly while boys are more likely to fight back if they can.

2. To me this represents how the narrator is telling the story. We move back and forth through out the narrator's life. And in some instances the people of her life also move back and forth from the past to the present.

3. Elaine has never been raised around other girls and so she was not prepared to handle how girls interact. Also she had wanted a girl friend for so long that she was willing to take a lot just to stay friends. Cordelia gained someone to be powerful over and to show her power with. The other girls needed to see how they would be treated if they did not side with her. Also Cordelia's home life did not seem to be one that assisted her in becoming a strong secure person as she grew and this was the only way she could be strong. Cordelia continue to instill herself into Elaine's life as they grew and since Elaine's art seemed to come from her experiences Cordelia also stayed fresh in her mind.

Eva said...

1. There wasn't really a ton of focus on boy-boy relationships in the book. The narrator, obviously, got along better with boys but she was a girl. But Atwood definitely portrayed the emotional manipulation that girls tend to go in for. :)

2. I think it mainly represented the narrator's anguish about that one point in her past. I think if she could, she'd go back to when she was being tormented and try to make her younger self realise that her friends don't have any real power over her sooner. Look at how hyper-worried she was about her own daughters, when they reached the same age! I also second MichaelAnn-it was a good summary of the story's structure!

3. There are hints that Cordelia's father was at least domineering, if not abusive, so I think her attacks on Elaine allowed her to become the strong one instead of the victim. Kind of like she identified Elaine as the one threat to her power over the other two, and pre-empted that by turning the other two against her. Does that make sense? And I think her power in Elaine's imagination comes from how different she was to Elaine. Elaine gives Cordelia all of the attributes she doesn't have, and her meeting with her later, as Cordelia breaks down first in high school and then as an adult show Elaine 'the road not taken' in a sort of way. I think Elaine is also trying to 'erase' or 'cancel out' her earlier victimization at Cordelia's hands by showing that she's better/stronger than Cordelia later.

Cathy...Grammy...Cat...Mom...Sis said...

1) Girls - mental cruelty; they gang up on one another on a regular basis…normally they ganged up on Elaine. Each tried to out-do the other whether it is by means of a parent’s illness, the home furnishings, clothing…but not Elaine. She did not feel the need – perhaps the others felt somewhat threatened by her.

Boys are physically cruel (as observed by Elaine of her brother) - at least boys know what to expect…rough and tumble torture! Just have a good old knock-down-drag-out challenge.

The boys were normally not threatened by girls since they were simply harmless creatures.

2) Wow, this ties in nicely with the entire book! I felt as if I were living/reading in two entirely different times/places while reading this book. It coupled together well, and felt comfortable. I felt that if someone could just figure out time travel a person could live for eternity. Even Stephen…

3) Cordelia felt power from her treatment of Elaine; this may have had something to do with her position in the family – 3rd daughter not able to live up to her older, smarter, more beautiful sisters. Maybe she took some of her anger out on Elaine.

Elaine wanted to be a part of the group, accepted by the girls no matter what the cost (and it nearly cost her life).

Much of Elaine’s art seemed to be centered around her childhood - Cordelia was a huge part of what was important to Elaine; she despised and loved Cordelia. Once Elaine found that she no longer had to bend to Cordelia’s demands, it turned the tide a bit and put Elaine in control. It was at this point that I felt Cordelia needed Elaine more than Elaine needed Cordelia. It was also important for Elaine to know throughout her adult life that she was still in control – or at least in better control than Cordelia…better control of her life, her career, her decisions. I think this gave her some kind of quiet satisfaction.

Kim L said...

1. A lot of writers present children as innocent and their friendships as pure, Atwood seems to remember being a child better than those writers. Girls are cruel to each other on a completely different level from boys. She doesn't talk much in the novel about the male relationships, but the ways that the girls manipulate each other is uniquely female. Pretending to be sick if the activity isn't going your way, picking out one of the group who needs "improvement"-these are all indirect methods to shame and control. Boys don't tend to be that subtle with each other.

2. I think it prefaces the book nicely, because the entire book is about being in two places: she is telling us about the present, but most of the book is about her memories of the past. I think even though she is bitter about a lot of the things that happened to her, she wishes that she could go back and do things over.

3. Cordelia gained power and control over the group by tormenting Elaine. When Elaine resisted passively, by not going over to play, Cordelia found ways to shame her into spending time with the group. Elaine's weakness seems to be that she does want to be accepted by the group, despite their meanness to her. Cordelia's cruelty seemed to taint Elaine's perspective of female relationships, and she kept other women at arm's length after that. When Elaine and Cordelia became friends again, Elaine enjoys the feeling of being the one in control. Even though (or maybe because) their relationship was tortured, Elaine wishes they could have just been the kind of best friends who supported each other and hung out up until old age.

Lisa said...

1. I definitely think there's a gender difference in the ways that boys and girls interact with each other growing up. Girls are so much more cruel. Boys may physically fight, but they get it out of their system and forget about it. Girls can be very vindictive and emotionally destructive.

2. At first, I really didn't know what to make of this line, but I think she's describing the way Elaine feels. She never really feels grown up. Time has passed, but she often still feels as if she were that same scared little girl.

3. Cordelia mistreats Elaine as a way of feeling better about herself. Cordelia doesn't have a secure sense of who she is and lacks self-confidence, which becomes evident later in the book. Elaine has progressed much further emotionally than Cordelia. But, Elaine still allows Cordelia to torment her through guilt. It's really very sad. There is so much unhappiness, and it perpetuates itself.

MissHum22 said...

2. I think it had to do with the perspective issue. Throughout the novel (as with her art), the same incident could be seen different ways, depending on your perspective and the passage of time.

3. Cordelia got to take out the humiliations she received from her sisters (& Dad?) and the feelings of imperfection from her mother on Elaine. Cordelia needed to know there was someone "worse" than her, so she made Elaine play that role for her. Elaine was vulnerable to it because of her lack of female-relationship experience because her family moved around so much in the beginning. Cordelia continued to play a role because 1. she had an integral role in shaping Elaine, 2. She kind of flipped out & as Elaine grew older, she realized what a wreck Cordelia was & felt guilty, too, for not being at a point where she could help her and not wanting to. Elaine continued to carry the hurt and the guilt until the end when she had her final forgiveness (of herself and Cordelia) and epiphany.

Scott said...

1. What does Margaret Atwood's novel Cat's Eye say about the nature of childhood and the development of adolescent friendships? Is there a gender influenced difference in cruelty between boys as opposed to cruelty as expressed by girls?
Margaret Atwood seems to be saying that our childhood and adolescent friendships are where we first begin to relate with people outside of our own families and can influence our relationships for the rest of our lives. We learn by trial and error how to interact with people who do not already know our life stories, our likes, our dislikes, our fears and our weaknesses. We begin to compare ourselves and our lives with that of others. Elaine in early childhood never had friends outside of the immediate family due to their "nomadic" life. When they finally settle into a house in Toronto, Elaine is faced with going to school and meeting "real girls at last, in the flesh."
"But I'm not used to girls, or familiar with their customs. I feel awkward around them, I don't know what to say. I know the unspoken rules of boys, but with girls I sense that I am always on the verge of some unforeseen, calamitous blunder." (pg 52.)
In many ways this characterizes her relationship with women for the rest of her life.
The differences between boy cruelty and girl cruelty is generally that boys cruelty tends to be more physical and girls is more verbal and emotional. When boys are at odds with one another it will often be sorted out through a physical fight. This brings things to a decisive end. There is a winner and a loser. There is a person of superior strength or ability and one with less. With girls the weapons of cruelty are emotional and verbal. They often seem to focus on a person's self image.

2. In the opening line of the novel, the narrator, artist Elaine Risley, who returns to the city of her birth for a retrospective of her painting, observes: "Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space . . . if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once." How do you interpret this statement?
The way the story is told, we move from present to past and back again almost effortlessly. It sometimes took a paragraph or more for me to realize which period I was in. This lends to the idea that our present is constantly being influenced by our past even when we forget the details. People will sometimes make choices based on something they remember from their childhood. Through our memories and our imaginations, we exist in many different times and places.

3. Elaine is haunted by Cordelia, her "best friend" and the tormentor of her childhood. All predators must have a motive. What benefit did Cordelia receive out of tormenting Elaine? What weakness in Elaine made her particularly vulnerable to Cordelia? Why did she continue to play such importance in Elaine's adult life?

In her home life, Cordelia lived in a family of women. As the youngest, she may have felt that she did not have much power. She has two older sisters who are considered beautiful. "Cordelia is not beautiful in the same way." (pg79) Her older sisters are gifted. Cordelia is not. The older sisters seem to be able to do what they like as long as "Mummie" doesn't find out. Cordelia is not good at this. She is often "disappointing." With her friends, Grace, Carol and Elaine, Cordelia can be the boss and everyone else can be the disappointment. Cordelia has learned the treatment of other girls from her sisters and mother. She has learned what gives a person power over other girls and uses it to gain power.

Elaine's weakness was her limited knowledge of the ways of girls. Unlike Cordelia, Elaine grew up with more masculine influences. Even Elaine's mother wore pants and mens shirts and preferrred to work outside. Cordelia was able to find this lack of knowledge in Elaine and use it against her - to gain power over her.

Throughout her life, Elaine uses Cordelia, or her idea and memory of Cordelia, as a benchmark. In many ways, Cordelia epitomizes concept of feminine for Elaine.