Cat’s Eye

by

Margaret Atwood

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Cat’s Eye Marble Symbol Analysis

Cat’s Eye Marble Symbol Icon

Elaine’s cat’s eye marble has multiple layers of symbolism in the novel, at once representing isolation, the persistence of trauma, and Elaine’s innermost self. One year, all of the kids in Elaine’s class get caught up in a craze of marble-collecting. They compete by gambling their marbles against each other in games, with a winner-takes-all policy. Unlike her brother Stephen, who always wins, Elaine rarely succeeds in these marble competitions. She does possess one special marble, however—a cat’s eye with a blue center, which she keeps secret from others and stores in a red purse. There are three layers to the symbolism of the cat’s eye marble. When Elaine first finds it, it acts as a talisman to ward off her negative emotions. The marble, then, represents Elaine’s sense of isolation, and the refuge that beloved objects can provide to people. It holds all of her memories and her secret, hidden thoughts when she becomes the victim of bullying and no one steps in to rescue her. Things of beauty create an oasis against negativity; the glass marble represents clarity and the importance of protecting inner thoughts against outer disturbances.

As she ages, Elaine forgets about the marble, only to rediscover it years later in a trunk in her mother’s basement. This discovery leads to the second layer of the cat’s eye’s role in the novel: it unlocks all of Elaine’s repressed memories from her childhood. In a single instant, looking at the blue glass core of the marble throws open the doors of her memory. When people endure traumatic events, they often repress them in order to move forward; the marble marks the ways that different objects from one’s past can reappear and trigger these floods of memories. For the novel, part of what this means is that nothing ever totally disappears—the past continues to stay with us, in the form of objects and memories.

In the third layer of meaning, the cat’s eye recurs as a motif in Elaine’s artwork. In one image, the cat’s eye replaces her own head. In another, she paints the Virgin Mary holding an oversized version of the marble between her hands. On some level, this becomes a symbol about symbols—the cat’s eye represents how an object from someone’s real life can be made to carry different meanings. The relationship to that symbol can begin to define one’s self-identity, as demonstrated by Elaine’s fixation on the cat’s eye. For Elaine, then, the cat’s eye ultimately represents her inner self—and by focusing on it, she can shut out the rest of the world.

Cat’s Eye Marble Quotes in Cat’s Eye

The Cat’s Eye quotes below all refer to the symbol of Cat’s Eye Marble. 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 3 Quotes

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:
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:
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Cat’s Eye Marble Symbol Timeline in Cat’s Eye

The timeline below shows where the symbol Cat’s Eye Marble appears in Cat’s Eye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part Three: Empire Bloomers
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Everyone starts collecting marbles at school, which they use to gamble against each other in games. There are plain... (full context)
Part Four: Deadly Nightshade
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
...plaid secondhand dress she got secondhand from a family friend. She takes the cat’s eye marble from her purse and leaves it in her bureau drawer and brings a nickel for... (full context)
Part Five: Wringer
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
...to think about things that the others know nothing about. She remembers her cat’s eye marble when spring comes, and takes it out secretly. She hides it from the girls, and... (full context)
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
War vs. Environmental Catastrophe  Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...won’t be able to fly anymore. Elaine begins to have scary dreams, full of symbols— the cat’s eye , the wooden bridge over the ravine, and nightshade berries. She doesn’t dream about Cordelia.... (full context)
Part Six: Cat’s Eye
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
To keep herself sane, Elaine holds onto the cat’s eye . Cordelia, Grace, and Carol walk ahead and she pictures Cordelia and Grace and Carol... (full context)
Part Eight: Half a Face
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...long hair and feeling like a child. She reorganizes her room, rediscovering the cat’s eye marble, the red purse, and some chestnuts. She sees her old photo album but does not... (full context)
Part Nine: Leprosy
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...dreams of finding a plastic purse hidden in a trunk somewhere, with some kind of treasure inside it. She dreams of being given a head wrapped in cloth, which she doesn’t... (full context)
Part Twelve: One Wing
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...called Life Drawing about him and Jon—both naked and painting a model, who has a marble-like sphere of bluish glass for a head. (full context)
Part Thirteen: Picoseconds
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...Grace Smeath wreathed in flowers. When she looks into the red purse and finds the marble still inside, she “sees her life entire.” (full context)
Part Fourteen: Unified Field Theory
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
War vs. Environmental Catastrophe  Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...flanking a man falling from the sky, holding a child’s wooden sword. The fourth painting, Cat’s Eye , is a self-portrait that represents half her head in the foreground, and three small... (full context)
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...dressed in black on a bridge—the Virgin of Lost Things, holding an oversized cat’s eye marble in her hands. Under the bridge, there looks to be galaxies of color—but there are... (full context)
Part Fifteen: Bridge
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...bridge, rebuilt in concrete—but, to her, it’s the same bridge. She thinks of the buried marbles, and recalls that she used to think that if she jumped over the bridge it... (full context)