Cat’s Eye

by

Margaret Atwood

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Elaine Risley Character Analysis

The protagonist and narrator of the novel, Elaine is the daughter of an entomologist who grows up in Toronto, Canada. She has a strong curiosity about the natural world and is a talented student of biology, but ultimately decides to pursue a career as a painter. When introduced, Elaine is an older woman about to have the first retrospective showing of her paintings; she spends a lot of time thinking about aging and reflecting on her unconventional childhood. It becomes abundantly clear that she has been permanently marked by her relationships with both her family and, all the more deeply, the female friends she had as a young girl—especially Cordelia. Elaine describes her experience of psychological torture when her friends, led by Cordelia, bully her; her desire to feel loved leads her into an experience of victimhood, and she grows deeply insecure due to her friends’ incessant taunting. Only her cat’s eye marble and the visions she has of the Virgin Mary help her get through these dark times. However, Atwood complicates the narrative, as Elaine forgets the bullying as she grows older, and ends up exacting cruelty on others. Though she never reaches the level of abuse that she experienced at the hands of Cordelia, her taste for vengeance and inflicting pain complicates a victim narrative. Elaine is prone to secrecy and to quiet; she likes to keep to herself and does not make friends easily. She trails after her older brother Stephen when they are young, but they grow more distant as they grow older. She also has a hard time building relationships with other women, which troubles her throughout her life; as a child, she says that she always wanted female friends, but that she doesn’t understand girls. As an adult, she feels uncomfortable and left out in larger groups of women, which leads to an overall ambivalence in her female relationships. She further hates ideology and dogma, and does not even like to be considered an artist. She is also generally very non-confrontational, preferring to avoid negative memories in favor of moving on—with the exception of her blow-out fights with her ex-husband Jon, most of Elaine’s largest conflicts involve her walking away.

Elaine Risley Quotes in Cat’s Eye

The Cat’s Eye quotes below are all either spoken by Elaine Risley or refer to Elaine Risley. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Anchor Books edition of Cat’s Eye published in 1998.
Part 1 Quotes

Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in time and exist in two places at once […] But I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Stephen Risley
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2 Quotes

This is the middle of my life. I think of it as a place, like the middle of a river, the middle of a bridge, halfway across, halfway over. I’m supposed to have accumulated things by now: possessions, responsibilities, achievements, experience and wisdom. I’m supposed to be a person of substance.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bridge
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

What we share, Jon and I, may be a lot like a traffic accident, but we do

share it. We are survivors, of each other. We have been shark to one another, but also lifeboat. That counts for something.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Jon
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

We like scabs. We pick them off—there isn’t room for a whole arm or leg under the microscope—and turn the magnification up as high as it will go. […] We look at earwax, or snot, or dirt from our toes, checking first to see that there’s no one around: we know without asking that such things would not be approved of. Our curiosity is supposed to have limits, though these have never been defined exactly.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Stephen Risley
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3 Quotes

There are days when I can hardly make it out of bed. I find it an effort to speak. I measure progress in steps, the next one and the next one, as far as the bathroom. These steps are major accomplishments. I focus on taking the cap off the toothpaste, getting the brush up to my mouth. I have difficulty lifting my arm to do even that. I feel I am without worth, that nothing I can do is of any value, least of all to myself. What do you have to say for yourself? Cordelia used to ask. Nothing, I would say. It was a word I came to connect with myself, as if I was nothing, as if there was nothing there at all. Last night I felt the approach of nothing.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

As I turn back, I see my purse, lying on the floor where I put it, and after all these years I should know better. It’s open. The cubicle wall comes down to only a foot above the floor, and back through the gap a noiseless arm is retreating, the hand clutching my wallet. The fingernails are painted Day-Glo green. I bring my shoeless foot down hard on the wrist. There’s a shriek, some loud plural giggling: youth on the fast track, schoolgirls on the prowl. My wallet is dropped, the hand shoots back like a tentacle. I jerk open the door. Damn you, Cordelia! I think. But Cordelia is long gone.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

The cat’s eyes are my favorites. If I win a new one I wait until I’m by myself, then take it out and examine it, turning it over and over in the light. The cat’s eyes really are like eyes, but not the eyes of cats. They’re the eyes of something that isn’t known but exists anyway; like the green eye of the radio; like the eyes of aliens from a distant planet. My favorite one is blue. I put it into my red plastic purse to keep it safe. I risk my other cat’s eyes to be shot at, but not this one.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker)
Related Symbols: Cat’s Eye Marble
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

“Remember this,” our father says. “This is a classic infestation. You won’t see an infestation like this again for a long time.” It’s the way I’ve heard people talk about forest fires, or the war: respect and wonderment mixed in with the sense of catastrophe.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Elaine’s Father (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5 Quotes

Most mothers worry when their daughters reach adolescence, but I was the opposite. I relaxed, I sighed with relief. Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker)
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

But Cordelia doesn’t do these things or have this power over me because she’s my enemy. […] In the war there were enemies. Our boys and the boys from Our Lady of Perpetual Help are enemies. […] With enemies you can feel hatred, and anger. But Cordelia is my friend. She likes me, she wants to help me, they all do. They are my friends, my girl friends, my best friends. I have never had any before and I’m terrified of losing them. I want to please. Hatred would have been easier. With hatred, I would have known what to do. Hatred is clear, metallic, one-handed, unwavering; unlike love.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia, Grace Smeath , Carol Campbell
Page Number: 131-132
Explanation and Analysis:

My father has eaten everything on his plate and is digging for more stuffing in the cavity of the turkey, which resembles a trussed, headless baby. It has thrown off its disguise as a meal and has revealed itself to me for what it is, a large dead bird. I’m eating a wing. It’s the wing of a tame turkey, the stupidest bird in the world, so stupid it can’t even fly any more. I am eating lost flight.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Elaine’s Father
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

We cross the wooden bridge on the way home from school. I am walking behind the others. Through the broken boards I can see the ground below. I remember my brother burying his jar full of puries, of waterbabies and cat’s eyes, a long time ago, down there somewhere under the bridge. The jar is still there in the earth, shining in the dark, in secret. I think about myself going down there alone despite the sinister unseen men, digging up the treasure, having all that mystery in my hands. I could never find the jar, because I don’t have the map. But I like to think about things the others know nothing about.

Related Symbols: Cat’s Eye Marble, The Bridge
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 6 Quotes

I walk away from her, guilt on my hands, absolving myself: I’m a good person. She could have been dying. Nobody else stopped. I’m a fool, to confuse this with goodness. I am not good. I know too much to be good. I know myself. I know myself to be vengeful, greedy, secretive and sly.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker)
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

I begin to spend time outside my body without falling over. At these times I feel blurred, as if there are two of me, one superimposed on the other, but imperfectly. There’s an edge of transparency, and beside it a rim of solid flesh that’s without feeling, like a scar. I can see what’s happening, I can hear what’s being said to me, but I don’t have to pay any attention. My eyes are open but I’m not there. I’m off to the side.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker)
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 7 Quotes

I hear someone talking to me. […] The person who was standing on the

bridge is moving through the railing, or melting into it. It’s a

woman […] She isn’t falling, she’s coming down toward me as if walking, but

there’s nothing for her to walk on. […] Now she’s quite close. I can see the white glimmer of her face, the dark scarf or hood around her head, or is it hair? She holds out her arms to me and I feel a surge of happiness. Inside

her half-open cloak there’s a glimpse of red. It’s her heart, I

think. It must be her heart, on the outside of her body, glowing

like neon, like a coal. […] You can go home now, she says. It will be all right. […] I don’t hear the words out loud, but this is what she says.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Bridge, Virgin Mary
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:

I am still a coward, still fearful; none of that has changed. But I turn and walk away from her. It’s like stepping off a cliff, believing the air will hold you up. And it does. I see that I don’t have to do what she says, and worse and better, I’ve never had to do what she says. I can do what I like.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 8 Quotes

Knowing too much about other people puts you in their power, they have a claim on you, you are forced to understand their reasons for doing things and then you are weakened.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Elaine’s Father
Page Number: 240
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 9 Quotes

Girls at school learn to look out for my mean mouth and avoid it. I walk the halls surrounded by an aura of potential verbal danger, and am treated with caution, which suits me fine. Strangely enough, my mean behavior doesn’t result in fewer friends, but, on the surface, more. The girls are afraid of me but they know where it’s safest: beside me, half a step behind […] Some of them are already collecting china and housewares, and have Hope Chests. For this kind of thing I feel amused disdain. And yet it disturbs me to learn I have hurt someone unintentionally. I want all my hurts to be intentional.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker)
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

A wave of blood goes up to my head, my stomach shrinks together, as if something dangerous has just missed hitting me. It’s as if I’ve been caught stealing, or telling a lie; or as if I’ve heard other people talking about me, saying bad things about me, behind my back. There’s the same flush of shame, of guilt and terror, and of cold disgust with myself. But I don’t know

where these feelings have come from, what I’ve done.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

But in the middle of the Botany examination it comes to me, like a sudden epileptic fit, that I’m not going to be a biologist, as I have thought. I am going to be a painter. I look at the page, where the life cycle of the mushroom from spore to fruiting body is taking shape, and I know this with absolute certainty. My life has been changed, soundlessly, instantaneously. I continue my explication of tubers, bulbs, and legumes, as if nothing has happened.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker)
Page Number: 280-281
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 10 Quotes

We are silent, considering shortfalls. There’s not much time left, for us to become what we once intended. Jon had potential, but it’s not a word that can be used comfortably any more. Potential has a shelf life.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Jon
Page Number: 289
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 11 Quotes

I go back to my apartment, lie down on the floor. […] I feel as if I’m at the center of nothingness, of a black square that is totally empty; that I’m exploding slowly outward, into the cold burning void of space. When I wake up it’s the middle of the night. I don’t know where I am. I think I’m back in my old room with the cloudy light fixture, in my parents’ house, lying on the floor because I’ve fallen out of bed, as I used to do when we had the army cots. But I know that the house has been sold, that my parents are no longer there. I have somehow been overlooked, left behind.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker)
Page Number: 366
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 13 Quotes

My brother Stephen died five years ago. I shouldn’t say died: was killed. I try not to think of it as murder, although it was, but as some kind of accident, like an exploding train. Or else a natural catastrophe, like a landslide. What they call for insurance purposes an act of God. He died of an eye for an eye, or someone’s idea of it. He died of too much justice.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Stephen Risley
Page Number: 424
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 14 Quotes

Really it’s Cordelia I expect, Cordelia I want to see. There are things I need to ask her. Not what happened, back then in the time I lost, because now I know that. I need to ask her why. […] Perhaps she’s forgotten the bad things, what she said to me, what she did. Or she does remember them, but in a minor way, as if remembering a game, or a single prank, a single trivial secret, of the kind girls tell and then forget. She will have her own version. I am not the center of her story, because she herself is that. But I could give her something you can never have, except from another person: what you look like from outside. A reflection. This is the part of herself I could give back to her. We are like the twins in old fables, each of whom has been given half a key.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 450
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 15 Quotes

This is what I miss, Cordelia: not something that’s gone, but something that will never happen. Two old women giggling over their tea.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker), Cordelia
Page Number: 462
Explanation and Analysis:

Now it’s full night, clear, moonless and filled with stars, which are not eternal as was once thought, which are not where we think they are. If they were sounds, they would be echoes, of something that happened millions of years ago: a word made of numbers. Echoes of light, shining out of the midst of nothing. It’s old light, and there’s not much of it. But it’s enough to

see by.

Related Characters: Elaine Risley (speaker)
Page Number: 462
Explanation and Analysis:
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Cat’s Eye PDF

Elaine Risley Character Timeline in Cat’s Eye

The timeline below shows where the character Elaine Risley appears in Cat’s Eye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One: Iron Lung
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Elaine thinks about the nature of time, which she identifies as dimensional instead of linear—her brother... (full context)
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Elaine tells her friend Cordelia that time isn’t linear while the two ride the streetcar together.... (full context)
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Elaine thinks about aging, and how she resembles those old ladies they made fun of. These... (full context)
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Elaine walks through the city, which is the same one she grew up in. She walks... (full context)
Part Two: Silver Paper
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Elaine lies on the floor on a futon, and thinks about her brother, Stephen. She wonders... (full context)
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Elaine lives in British Colombia now, which has an unreal landscape, like that of a greeting... (full context)
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Elaine has come back to the city for a retrospective showing of her work at an... (full context)
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Elaine thinks about the last time she saw Jon, at Sarah’s graduation. They stole away to... (full context)
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Elaine goes into the kitchen to make herself tea, and feels like she has experienced a... (full context)
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Elaine thinks about her childhood. She had been happy before they moved to Toronto—her family had... (full context)
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Elaine’s brother, Stephen, used to play at war with wooden toy guns and swords. He liked... (full context)
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Elaine remembers a picture taken of her at a motel on her eighth birthday—she knows that... (full context)
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In the winter, Stephen and Elaine like to roll around in the snow like puppies, wearing winter shoes that do not... (full context)
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Elaine’s father now dresses in jackets and tweed for his job as a university professor, instead... (full context)
Part Three: Empire Bloomers
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In Jon’s apartment, Elaine reflects on the difficulty that she sometimes has getting out of bed, and even taking... (full context)
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Walking through the city, Elaine has the jingle from the Happy Gang stuck in her head. Whereas Toronto used to... (full context)
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Back in her childhood, Elaine thinks about the school they were sent to: the Queen Mary Public School. Girls have... (full context)
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Carol Campbell befriends Elaine, partly because she also takes the school bus. She lives closer to school and has... (full context)
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Elaine and Stephen take Carol to the zoology building, but the different animals and scientific tools... (full context)
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Carol introduces Elaine to her best friend Grace Smeath, who is a year older and in the next... (full context)
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At Christmas, Elaine gets gifts from Carol and Grace—bath salts and a coloring book, as well as a... (full context)
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Grace starts inviting Elaine over without Carol, which she says is because of her mother’s bad heart. Mrs. Smeath... (full context)
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...has started collecting comic books and running around in the mud with other boys. Sometimes Elaine reads quietly in Stephen’s room with them, but she has to keep silent. (full context)
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At school, Elaine skips rope with Carol and Grace, though she finds the songs unsettling. The sun starts... (full context)
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...waterbabies, metal bowlies, and aggies. It’s considered cheating to buy marbles instead of winning them. Elaine’s favorites are the cat’s eyes, which she thinks actually look like eyes—but not of a... (full context)
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Elaine and her family leave town to go north for the summer, where the land is... (full context)
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At dinner, Elaine’s father talks about the end of the world, inevitable with the atom bomb; only insects... (full context)
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Elaine and her family return in September, and their house looks “enchanted,” with thistles and goldenrod... (full context)
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At the start, Elaine feels intimidated by Cordelia but also a sense of intimacy. Cordelia lives in a bright... (full context)
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Elaine, Carol, Grace, and Cordelia play dress-up with Cordelia’s clothing; she wants them to perform plays,... (full context)
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...other girls to go down into the water, but none of them want to, although Elaine knows it is only a game as her own mother goes down into the ravine... (full context)
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...The girls get a nasty joy thinking about what underwear their teachers wear. Miss Lumley, Elaine’s current teacher, is cruel and gives boys the strap. She rules by fear and hates... (full context)
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...collect used clothing to donate. Even though she is not afraid of snakes or worms, Elaine is afraid of Miss Lumley’s invisible bloomers, which Cordelia says are navy blue. (full context)
Part Four: Deadly Nightshade
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Elaine walks along Queen Street past comic book stores wishing she were back in Vancouver with... (full context)
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Elaine wonders if her market value would go up if she cut off her ears or... (full context)
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They sit down for the interview, and Elaine is concerned that Andrea is judging her for seeming like a normal middle-aged woman. Andrea... (full context)
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Back in Elaine’s childhood memories, she walks home from school with Cordelia. At Grace’s house, Cordelia realizes that... (full context)
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Grace says that God makes babies, which ends their discussion. However, Elaine has her doubts, as she has seen insects mate before. She considers asking her brother,... (full context)
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Elaine goes to the cellar at Grace’s house and sees Mrs. Smeath peeling potatoes; Mrs. Smeath... (full context)
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Elaine wears a plaid secondhand dress she got secondhand from a family friend. She takes the... (full context)
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They then go to Sunday school, at the end of which Elaine feels suffused with goodness and loved by God. Elaine and the Smeaths go to Sunday... (full context)
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...girls stand in small clumps, whisper amongst themselves, and use spools to make potholders, though Elaine still reads comic books in her brother’s room quietly if no other girls are around.... (full context)
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Stephen has his first girlfriend, whom he keeps secret from everyone but Elaine. He writes Elaine notes in code that usually end up being about this mystery girlfriend.... (full context)
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...Grace wears an ordinary lady’s dress, Carol a fairy outfit, Cordelia a clown suit, and Elaine a sheet because that is all there is. When Halloween passes, Cordelia starts digging holes... (full context)
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Elaine does not remember her ninth birthday, although she tries—she “only sees emptiness,” and when she... (full context)
Part Five: Wringer
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Elaine leaves the gallery and decides to go shopping and buy yogurt and oranges. On her... (full context)
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Elaine remembers peeling the skin off her feet during the time when Cordelia had power over... (full context)
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When she had her own children, Elaine initially wished that she had had sons instead of daughters; she thought she knew what... (full context)
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Back in the past, Elaine sits on a window ledge in the zoology building watching the parade; Cordelia, Grace, and... (full context)
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Elaine stands outside Cordelia’s room while Cordelia, Grace, and Carol have a meeting about her. They... (full context)
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Ultimately, Cordelia permits Elaine to return to the room, but she stands for a long time with her hand... (full context)
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The weather grows colder, and Elaine lies in bed peeling the skin off her feet and thinking that she is abnormal... (full context)
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Elaine knows that if she told anyone about what was happening, it would be a violation... (full context)
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Sometimes Cordelia decides to make Carol the target of improvement, and invites Elaine and Grace to walk ahead and discuss her faults. Elaine does not feel bad for... (full context)
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Elaine likes doing the laundry and using the old wringer to get the clothing dry, because... (full context)
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Elaine still goes to church on Sundays with the Smeaths, because Mrs. Smeath seems to enjoy... (full context)
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...White Gift Sunday, everyone brings cans of food to church to donate to the poor. Elaine has brought Habitant pea soup and Spam, which she thinks might be the wrong kinds... (full context)
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After church, they watch the trains and return home for dinner, and Elaine comes along because these activities happen every Sunday, and she knows that it would be... (full context)
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...enough that the milk comes frozen in its bottle in the mornings. Miss Lumley notices Elaine’s handwriting deteriorating, and chastises her, which makes Elaine even more anxious because she knows that... (full context)
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Despite all of the festive tasks, Elaine goes through the season “like a sleepwalker” and takes no interest in snowmen or Santa... (full context)
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A student of Elaine’s father, Mr. Banerji, joins them at Christmas dinner, as it would be too far for... (full context)
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Elaine and Mr. Banerji both pick at their meals, and Elaine thinks that wild things are... (full context)
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After Christmas, Elaine gets a job walking Brian Finestein in his baby carriage after school. For an hour... (full context)
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Elaine wheels Brian out in the carriage and observes how quiet he is, as he never... (full context)
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Another day, Elaine goes out walking Brian, thinking that his religion adds another dimension to the image she... (full context)
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Mrs. Finestein forgives Elaine for quitting and gives her an extra nickel, but Elaine still goes home feeling like... (full context)
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One Saturday, Elaine sits at home watching the icicles and eating the alphabet soup—she used to spell out... (full context)
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Elaine ends up going straight home and lying in bed with a fever. She feels safe,... (full context)
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...do, like gossiping too much, being sloppy, being bossy, or knitting too much—this proves to Elaine that there will be “no end to imperfection or doing things the wrong way”; even... (full context)
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Winter melts away and spring comes. Elaine’s parents start pulling weeds in their garden, and Elaine skips rope in Grace’s driveway with... (full context)
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When they cross the wooden bridge on the way to school, Elaine recalls the jar that Stephen buried and thinks about it shining in secret in the... (full context)
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This year, Elaine’s family waits until very late to leave for the summer. They rent a cabin on... (full context)
Part Six: Cat’s Eye
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Elaine has a cappuccino in Simpson’s department store, thinking about how different it looks from her... (full context)
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...that was never brought up or displayed because it would have had to be polished. Elaine wonders if her mother knew what was happening at the time, and thinks about what... (full context)
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Elaine made a series of paintings of her mother once, a double triptych that she called... (full context)
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On the street, Elaine sees a woman lying on the sidewalk. Although everyone walks around her, Elaine stops. The... (full context)
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When they come back in September, Elaine feels like Cordelia is backing her towards the edge of a cliff. She used to... (full context)
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To keep herself sane, Elaine holds onto the cat’s eye. Cordelia, Grace, and Carol walk ahead and she pictures Cordelia... (full context)
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One day, Elaine is greasing muffin tins with her mother when her mother says vaguely that she does... (full context)
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Elaine’s mother says that when she was little and kids called her names, they used to... (full context)
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Cordelia brings a pocket mirror to school and holds it up to Elaine’s face, demanding that she look at herself. Elaine sees her face, but doesn’t see anything... (full context)
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Soon, Princess Elizabeth comes to visit Toronto on a Royal Visit—the news captivates Elaine, who follows her progress in the papers. She memorizes the route and thinks that she... (full context)
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...from seasonal paper cutouts for the windows to group murals with pictures of foreign countries. Elaine particularly likes art projects about foreign people and places, because it helps her think of... (full context)
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...after school, and while most students draw skipping ropes and themselves playing with a dog, Elaine feels stuck. She ends up drawing her bed with herself lying in it, and then... (full context)
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On Valentine’s Day, Elaine gets the most cards from boys, though she hides them. Carol has started growing breasts... (full context)
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Elaine knows that fathers are enigmatic, like Mr. Smeath with his secret life of trains and... (full context)
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Elaine’s mother is taken to the hospital all of a sudden when an ambulance comes in... (full context)
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Sometimes Elaine has to repeat herself before her mother registers that she’s speaking, as she appears to... (full context)
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Elaine goes to a Conversat with her father, Stephen, and his friend Danny. It’s like a... (full context)
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Around this time, Cordelia makes up a new game. Elaine is supposed to picture ten stacks of plates for her ten chances—every time she does... (full context)
Part Seven: Our Lady of Perpetual Help
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Back in the present, Elaine buys a slice of pizza and returns to the studio. She tries calling Ben, but... (full context)
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One time when she goes to dinner at the Smeaths’ after church, Elaine overhears Mrs. Smeath and Aunt Mildred talking about her. They insult her and her family,... (full context)
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Elaine stops singing along to hymns when she goes to church, and she stops praying to... (full context)
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One day in the middle of March, Elaine starts laughing with the other girls when Cordelia falls. They were on their way home... (full context)
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Looking at her hat, which has landed on the ice, makes Elaine angry—she thinks it’s a stupid hat and she’s angry that it belongs to her; she... (full context)
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Elaine finally manages to haul herself out of the ravine once the lights are already all... (full context)
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Elaine receives a get-well card from Carol, and a rehearsed telephone apology from Cordelia. When she... (full context)
Part Eight: Half a Face
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Elaine describes how she used to go into churches to read the inscriptions and seek out... (full context)
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Elaine remembers going to Mexico with Ben on their first trip together, before she knew that... (full context)
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Elaine also thinks about the different phases that her daughters went through—when they were about twelve... (full context)
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...passes, the King dies and is replaced by Queen Elizabeth, who used to be Princess Elizabeth—Elaine feels like her memories of the princess make her uneasy. Cordelia and Grace skip a... (full context)
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Elaine remembers having been friends with Cordelia, Carol, and Grace, but they all seem flattened to... (full context)
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...Grace graduate, and Carol hangs around near boys and isn’t much liked by other girls. Elaine has a boyfriend she seems ambivalent about, and sees her first television set. Eventually, Carol... (full context)
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...walk to school together, as they appear to be studying at the same high school. Elaine agrees, though her mother seems uncertain. When Elaine and Cordelia walk together, Elaine notices the... (full context)
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Elaine feels distanced from her emotions, which does make her feel older than some of the... (full context)
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...drugstore, which the girls read to each other while they are walking home; it gives Elaine nightmares, so she hides the comic she took in Stephen’s room. (full context)
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One Sunday, Elaine sits with her family while her father draws spruce budworms, and her mother makes sandwiches.... (full context)
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...school for brainy boys.” He studies math, and sometimes has friends over to play chess. Elaine brings them cookies on occasion, but is mostly left out. Now, when their father makes... (full context)
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As an adult, Elaine now knows that her father wanted to be a pilot in the war, but was... (full context)
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Elaine learns to make her own clothing in home economics and gets fashion advice next door... (full context)
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In the summer, Stephen works as a canoeing teacher at a boys’ camp, so Elaine travels alone with her parents to Sault Ste. Marie and exchanges letters with Stephen and... (full context)
Part Nine: Leprosy
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Charna tells Elaine that the article made front page in Entertainment. It was titled “CROTCHETY ARTIST STILL HAS... (full context)
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Elaine is described as eminent, and unformidable due to her blue jogging suit, and their conversation... (full context)
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Elaine enters Grade 10 and gets her period, which makes her into one of the “knowing”... (full context)
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On the way home from school, Elaine and Cordelia sing witty parodies of popular songs and make snowballs that they throw at... (full context)
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They also break into the cemetery and smoke cigarettes. Elaine tells lies about Mrs. Smeath, claiming that she is a vampire and that Elaine herself... (full context)
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In Grade 11, Elaine has finally started to catch up to the girls in her class in terms of... (full context)
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Elaine’s father says that her sharp tongue will get her in trouble, but it doesn’t effectively... (full context)
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Elaine starts dating boys, which was not a conscious plan of hers and just sort of... (full context)
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Furthermore, Elaine does not think any of these words (like “stunned broad” and “bitch”) apply to her... (full context)
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A girl around Elaine’s age is found murdered in the ravine—it’s not the spot where Elaine nearly drowned, but... (full context)
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Although Elaine had dismissed the notion of bad men in the ravine, this event forces her to... (full context)
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Stephen interrupts Elaine and Cordelia while they sit doing physics homework, and makes fun of Cordelia for not... (full context)
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Time passes, and Elaine and Cordelia enter Grade 13. As the oldest people in school now, they get to... (full context)
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One night, Cordelia comes to Elaine’s house for help with her biology homework and stays for dinner. At dinner, Elaine’s father... (full context)
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Elaine has intense dreams. Sometimes she dreams about boys—but sometimes she dreams that she’s trapped in... (full context)
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Cordelia tells Elaine that she used to take extreme actions to fake sick and skip school, like eating... (full context)
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Elaine starts avoiding Cordelia, though she doesn’t fully understand why. Cordelia often waits for her and... (full context)
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After exams, Cordelia calls Elaine and says that she wants to see her. When Elaine arrives at her new house,... (full context)
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...or the fact that they used to throw snowballs at old ladies and sing songs, Elaine feels like looking backwards puts her into danger. She also feels a hardness and resentment... (full context)
Part Ten: Life Drawing
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Elaine, older now, thinks about diseases of the memory—like forgetfulness of nouns or numbers, or losing... (full context)
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Jon arrives late to dinner with Elaine, and they flirt a little. When they discuss their jobs, they realize that “there’s not... (full context)
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Elaine walks along Queen thinking about a picture she painted called Falling Women, which she thinks... (full context)
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Elaine stares at a nearly naked woman in her Life Drawing class, whom she attempts to... (full context)
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Elaine takes the class Tuesdays at Toronto College of Art, taught by Mr. Hrbik, who admitted... (full context)
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Elaine studies Art and Archeology at the University of Toronto, because the program was a sanctioned... (full context)
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All but one of the students in Elaine’s course are women, whereas all but one of the professors are men. Elaine feels ill-at-ease... (full context)
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Elaine drinks beer in a beer parlor with other students from Life Drawing—they can only obtain... (full context)
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...about. The boys hate the drawing class and see Mr. Hrbik as a “throwback,” whereas Elaine feels a combination of sorrow and admiration. They only take Life Drawing because it is... (full context)
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...black turtlenecks, but she does her eye make-up heavily like Cleopatra and has full hips. Elaine has derisive opinions about her, because she sees Susie as just a silly girl playing... (full context)
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February has arrived, and Elaine’s classes have moved beyond the medieval period. In her daytime classes, Elaine pesters the other... (full context)
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Elaine doesn’t find the idea of their love affair funny the way her older classmates Babs... (full context)
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Though Elaine still lives at home, she moves into the cellar, where she puts up theater posters... (full context)
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Stephen and Elaine communicate via letters, which talk about both the banal and more profound elements of his... (full context)
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Elaine meets Mr. Hrbik at a French restaurant, where they dine on wine and eat snails.... (full context)
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All summer, Mr. Hrbik ended up buying Elaine nice meals and asking her not to leave him. Elaine thinks that she might have... (full context)
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As their relationship develops, Elaine and Mr. Hrbik keep it hidden from Susie, who seems to suspect something and feel... (full context)
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In her free time, Elaine paints furniture. Josef (as she now calls him) does not want to talk about the... (full context)
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Cordelia has run away from home. She finds Elaine at Murray’s, looking gaunt and distinguished. Elaine wears her work uniform and feels insecure; she... (full context)
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In August, Josef starts changing Elaine’s style. He picks clothing and hairstyles for her, and they go on a date at... (full context)
Part Eleven: Falling Women
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Back in the present, Elaine walks drunkenly by a monument to the South African War, and wonders if anybody living... (full context)
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Elaine looks at a display of silk scarves when a girl interrupts her, whom she assumes... (full context)
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Elaine leaves her job at the Swiss Chalet at the end of summer and moves back... (full context)
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Elaine has continued to pursue a relationship with both Josef and Jon, and fallen in love... (full context)
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...interested in purity. In his home, he resents housekeeping in a “protest against all mothers.” Elaine feels like she can’t clean his apartment lest he regard her as a maternal figure.... (full context)
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Josef starts to feel suspicious and asks Elaine where she has been when she is not around him, but she does not feel... (full context)
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...the drapes are drawn and there is a weird smell. The furniture seems normal, but Elaine sees a dark carpet on the footprint. She looks for Susie and finds her lying... (full context)
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Although Susie does not want her to tell Josef, Elaine does so anyway. When he finds out, and says he will never get over his... (full context)
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Now only dating Jon, Elaine feels more virtuous because she is no longer hiding anything from him, although he has... (full context)
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Elaine resumes her lifestyle of school in the daytime, though the subject matter has shifted towards... (full context)
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Elaine takes another night course on Wednesday nights which is taught by a Yugoslavian—the subject is... (full context)
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Elaine’s parents move up north—her father returns to research, and her mother misses the garden but... (full context)
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Stephen and Elaine communicate in this manner for some time, until one day he gives a lecture in... (full context)
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It becomes clear that Stephen does not share Elaine’s memories of their childhood—that he sang “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer,” played... (full context)
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Elaine does his Jon’s laundry now, and on Sundays they sleep in late and go on... (full context)
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Elaine starts painting objects from her childhood, like a toaster and the wringer, as well as... (full context)
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Time skips ahead, and Elaine is walking Sarah in her stroller. She is over two now, so she can walk,... (full context)
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Elaine takes care of Sarah with a fierce love as well as frequent irritation and feels... (full context)
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Jon and Elaine start have intense fights, which involve throwing things at each other. At the crux of... (full context)
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Elaine goes to a feminist meeting about anger against men, where she feels like she’s on... (full context)
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...the hands of men, whether rape, physical abuse, discrimination, or dismissal. On the one hand, Elaine believes all these stories and knows that the world is full of sinister men who... (full context)
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At home, Elaine paints at night while Sarah sleeps. She paints the Virgin Mary as a lioness, fierce... (full context)
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Elaine joins a group of women in her feminist meetings to put on a group art... (full context)
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Elaine comes early to the opening and looks at all of their work on display, which... (full context)
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Many of the paintings that Elaine chose for the opening are of Mrs. Smeath, portrayed in one lying on the sofa... (full context)
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A woman comes up and confronts Elaine in anger—she thinks at first that it is Grace Smeath, but it is just another... (full context)
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Elaine visits an institution where Cordelia’s parents have placed her because she tried to commit suicide.... (full context)
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Cordelia has seemed to have lost her idea of herself, and she asks Elaine to help break her out—when she refuses, Cordelia does not seem surprised. Although Elaine speaks... (full context)
Part Twelve: One Wing
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Elaine goes to 4-D Diner, a new and fake version of the diners of her childhood.... (full context)
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Elaine walks past Josef’s old apartment and wonders what became of him. He made a film... (full context)
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Elaine meets Jon at the roof bar of the Park Plaza Hotel, where she used to... (full context)
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The narrative skips back to earlier in their relationship, when Elaine realized that Jon was having affairs. She collects evidence, but does not confront him at... (full context)
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Elaine lies alone in her bedroom and “feels nothingness wash over her,” and thinks that whatever... (full context)
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Elaine decides to leave Toronto after the snow melts, because she feels like it is the... (full context)
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Elaine finds Vancouver both worse and better than she expected, and changes her opinion day to... (full context)
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Eventually, Jon comes to visit as a move towards reconciliation, and Elaine’s parents also come to visit because they miss Sarah. Stephen continues to send postcards and... (full context)
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Elaine has tentative and rushed affairs with men that she meets periodically, but there are long... (full context)
Part Thirteen: Picoseconds
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Elaine wakes late in Jon’s apartment, dresses in a cerise jogging suit, and reads the paper... (full context)
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Stephen died five years ago, and Elaine tries to think of it as a natural disaster rather than a murder—he was killed... (full context)
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...their passports confiscated. A new man entered the plane and made Stephen stand up, and Elaine pictures to herself what it might have been like. She knows that he was made... (full context)
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Their parents never recover from Stephen’s death. Elaine’s father grows thinner and stiller, and he eventually dies of natural causes—her mother follows a... (full context)
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One day, Elaine’s mother brings up the “bad time” in Elaine’s childhood, which Elaine has completely repressed. She... (full context)
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In the present, Elaine walks towards the location where her old school was. It has been replaced by a... (full context)
Part Fourteen: Unified Field Theory
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Elaine puts on a new black dress and gets ready for her opening. She arrives an... (full context)
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Elaine looks at the paintings in chronological order: the early paintings characterized by Charna as female... (full context)
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Elaine then looks at One Wing, the painting she made for her brother after his death—a... (full context)
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...there looks to be galaxies of color—but there are roots and beetles; this is underground. Elaine drinks more wine, and feels tempted to burn her paintings—she cannot control them or tell... (full context)
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Charna introduces Elaine to the people who arrive for the opening—although she feels drunk and uncomfortable, Elaine just... (full context)
Part Fifteen: Bridge
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Elaine wakes hungover still in her black dress, having already slept until noon. The day feels... (full context)
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Elaine hears someone behind her, and imagines it to be Cordelia, looking at her “defiantly” in... (full context)
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On the plane home, Elaine sees two elderly women on a trip together. Elaine realizes that what she misses with... (full context)