Cat’s Eye

by

Margaret Atwood

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Stephen Risley Character Analysis

Elaine’s older brother. As a child, he collects comic books and marbles and seems to have no trouble fitting in with the other boys. Rowdy, brave, and a brilliant student of math and science, Stephen initially demonstrates an interest in biology like his father; later, he develops a passion for quantum physics that forms the basis of his career. The older he gets, the more distant he grows from his family. Elaine knows little about his later life, except that he lives in San Francisco, marries a woman named Annette, and continues to work as a quantum physicist. He returns to Toronto to give a talk on his research, which is erudite and beloved by a large audience—Elaine does not understand him, however, and their interactions after the talk show the inequalities in their relationship. While Elaine remembers songs he sang in childhood and other details of their life, Stephen seems to have forgotten much; the nuclear family clearly means less to him than it does to Elaine, and he comes across as an independent and perhaps more closed-off person. Stephen is also obsessive and somewhat absentminded in his later life. For example, he once gets caught on a private military testing zone he had wandered onto to chase a butterfly. He is ultimately killed on an airplane that has been overtaken by terrorists. In the end, Stephen’s brilliance scares his mother, his father, and his sister—none of whom fully understand Stephen, though he continues to affect them even after his death.

Stephen Risley Quotes in Cat’s Eye

The Cat’s Eye quotes below are all either spoken by Stephen Risley or refer to Stephen 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:
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
). 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

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 5 Quotes

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 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:
Get the entire Cat’s Eye LitChart as a printable PDF.
Cat’s Eye PDF

Stephen Risley Character Timeline in Cat’s Eye

The timeline below shows where the character Stephen Risley appears in Cat’s Eye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One: Iron Lung
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Elaine thinks about the nature of time, which she identifies as dimensional instead of linear—her brother (Stephen) told her this when she was a child, and she comes to believe that... (full context)
Part Two: Silver Paper
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
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Elaine lies on the floor on a futon, and thinks about her brother, Stephen. She wonders if he had ever figured out futons, and thinks about how inexpensive... (full context)
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Elaine’s brother, Stephen, used to play at war with wooden toy guns and swords. He liked to... (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... (full context)
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...the drawings based on their accuracy, whereas Elaine judges them based on color. Elaine and Stephen get to play in the labs in the zoology building on the weekends; they spend... (full context)
Part Three: Empire Bloomers
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...is not allowed. The schoolyard is also separated by gender, and Elaine only sees her brother when they’re lined up outside. She isn’t supposed to talk to him at school, since... (full context)
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Elaine and Stephen take Carol to the zoology building, but the different animals and scientific tools creep her... (full context)
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...a year older and in the next grade. Elaine stops visiting the zoology building with Stephen, and instead plays with Carol and Grace, and feels self-conscious, as if she is only... (full context)
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...listening to the radio, which is made of dark wood and has a single green eye—Stephen says it makes eerie noises from outer space between stations. (full context)
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...The house looks like something left over from the war, surrounded by rubble and devastation. Stephen wants to make a bunker out of the hole next door when the water level... (full context)
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...eyes of aliens.” She has a blue one that she hides in her red purse. Stephen wins the most marbles, jars and jars of them, and one Saturday afternoon he takes... (full context)
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...air smells clearer. They fish and sleep in an abandoned logging camp, and Elaine and Stephen wander together. Elaine finds a tin of maple syrup that was rusted shut, and thinks... (full context)
Part Four: Deadly Nightshade
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...Elaine has her doubts, as she has seen insects mate before. She considers asking her brother, but she thinks the question would be indelicate, even though the two of them have... (full context)
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Stephen has his first girlfriend, whom he keeps secret from everyone but Elaine. He writes Elaine... (full context)
Part Five: Wringer
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...particularly pleased with Elaine. She always asks Elaine if she would like to bring her brother Stephen along next time, or perhaps her parents, and Elaine feels judged for the failure... (full context)
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...everyone she knows into the categories of “tame” and “wild,” with her mother, father, and brother being wild along with Cordelia, but Grace and Carol fitting into the category of tame. ... (full context)
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...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 dark underground; she thinks about... (full context)
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...raven in the woods, and seems to think “it’s lucky that it can’t feel anything.” Stephen has developed an interest in butterflies and walks alone in the woods with a journal... (full context)
Part Six: Cat’s Eye
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...and knows that she would do them to please her. She thinks about telling her brother, but is afraid he will make fun of her for being a sissy. She also... (full context)
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...comes in the middle of the night, and their father says that it was an accident—Stephen think she had a miscarriage. He was awake when the ambulance arrived because he had... (full context)
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Elaine goes to a Conversat with her father, Stephen, and his friend Danny. It’s like a museum, with lots of visitors and educational displays... (full context)
Part Eight: Half a Face
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...are walking home; it gives Elaine nightmares, so she hides the comic she took in Stephen’s room. (full context)
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Stephen has a razor now, though he does not shave on the weekends. He studies in... (full context)
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...gets fashion advice next door from Mrs. Finestein. Sometimes she gets stuck doing dishes with Stephen, who condescendingly teaches her about space and time. He makes her a Möbius strip to... (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... (full context)
Part Nine: Leprosy
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...there’s much there, but because the practice makes her feel good; while she does so, Stephen stands outside the bathroom and teases her for taking so long. At school she is... (full context)
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...people want to protect themselves against her. Boys don’t draw her attention as much, except Stephen, and the two of them exchange verbal meanness with each other as a kind of... (full context)
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Stephen interrupts Elaine and Cordelia while they sit doing physics homework, and makes fun of Cordelia... (full context)
Part Ten: Life Drawing
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In the spring, Stephen gets arrested for trespassing on a military testing site while trying to chase a butterfly.... (full context)
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Stephen and Elaine communicate via letters, which talk about both the banal and more profound elements... (full context)
Part Eleven: Falling Women
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...of countries. She has been made to suffer by a war, the war that killed Stephen. In the end, Elaine does give her the money, and the woman tells her that... (full context)
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...during the day and paints in secret at night. Her parents sent postcards, as does Stephen—his become taciturn and come from various locations, from Nevada to Bolivia to New York. Elaine... (full context)
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Stephen and Elaine communicate in this manner for some time, until one day he gives a... (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... (full context)
Part Twelve: One Wing
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...a move towards reconciliation, and Elaine’s parents also come to visit because they miss Sarah. Stephen continues to send postcards and a stuffed dinosaur for Sarah, as well as a water... (full context)
Part Thirteen: Picoseconds
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Stephen died five years ago, and Elaine tries to think of it as a natural disaster... (full context)
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...on the plane had 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... (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... (full context)
Part Fourteen: Unified Field Theory
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Elaine then looks at One Wing, the painting she made for her brother after his death—a triptych with a luna moth and World War II airplane flanking a... (full context)