Cat’s Eye

by

Margaret Atwood

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The Bridge Symbol Icon

As a child, Elaine has to walk to school past a ravine with a wooden bridge over it—which becomes a complex symbol of transition, uncertainty, and imagination. There are rumors of dangerous men who lurk to attack young women in that ravine, so Elaine and her friends aren’t supposed to ever stray from the bridge. The bridge, then, represents hidden dangers and the perverse ways that some people use public spaces in order to make targets—it is a space of vulnerability, uncertainty, and darkness. It’s also a space that marks the divide between the sexes: men wander freely, making young women unsafe.

The bridge also becomes the subject of several mysteries. First, Elaine’s brother Stephen buries his collection of marbles somewhere out by the bridge. Later, Cordelia tries to convince Elaine, Carol, and Grace that dead people populate the water beneath it because the river runs from a cemetery. After that, she throws Elaine’s hat down into the “ravine where the bad men are” in winter and forces her to fetch it, which leads Elaine to nearly freeze to death until she thinks she sees an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Even when these mysteries are debunked, they captivate Elaine’s imagination. Her own mother collects plants down by the ravine, and Elaine knows the Virgin Mary apparition was just wishful thinking; no one came to help her. This shows the ambivalence of the bridge space—it takes on at once the darkest and most hopeful rumors, some of which prove true—a young woman is killed by the river during Elaine’s high school years—and others of which fade away.

Bridges also represent duality and transition—they link a starting point and an end point, creating a sense of uncertainty and ambivalence. When one stands on the bridge, one is no longer on solid ground. This is especially evident in Elaine’s painting Falling Women, which depicts three women falling off the bridge. This work further underscores that not only do bridges stretch between two horizontal points, but they also mark the dimension between the high and the low—and call into question what might be lurking underneath a simple surface. Elaine again works the bridge into her painting Unified Field Theory, this time with a galaxy of marbles buried underneath it. The bridge exists as a space of intense romantic imagination as well as deep fear.

The wooden bridge of Elaine’s youth eventually gets torn down, and Elaine watches it with “an uneasy feeling, as if something’s buried down there, a nameless, crucial thing” or as though there were “someone still on the bridge, left by mistake, up in the air…” Years later, she walks across the concrete bridge that has replaced it and thinks, “Nevertheless it’s the same bridge.” As a symbol, it does not matter if years pass or the bridge changes in form—it stands regardless for a period of suspension between two extremes, the potential fear of falling, and the uncertainty about whether danger or beauty lurks beneath the surface.

The Bridge Quotes in Cat’s Eye

The Cat’s Eye quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Bridge. 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 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:
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 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:
Get the entire Cat’s Eye LitChart as a printable PDF.
Cat’s Eye PDF

The Bridge Symbol Timeline in Cat’s Eye

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Bridge appears in Cat’s Eye. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part Two: Silver Paper
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...the middle of her life, “like the middle of a river, the middle of a bridge”—she feels suspended, as though she is “supposed to be a person of substance, with responsibilities... (full context)
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
...Anglican, unlike Elaine’s family who never goes to church. They walk home over a decaying bridge over a ravine, where they aren’t allowed to play because there could be dangerous men... (full context)
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...jars of them, and one Saturday afternoon he takes the best ones out by the ravine and buries them. He also buries a treasure map, and tells this to Elaine, “but... (full context)
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
Time and Memory Theme Icon
...to buy popsicles and gumballs that they share. On their path, they pass the wooden footbridge and all the weeds along the way, which include goldenrod and burdock and deadly nightshade,... (full context)
Part Five: Wringer
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
When they cross the wooden bridge on the way to school, Elaine recalls the jar that Stephen buried and thinks about... (full context)
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
War vs. Environmental Catastrophe  Theme Icon
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...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. Elaine’s mother think she... (full context)
Part Six: Cat’s Eye
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
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...on her lips where she’s bitten off the skin. During this time, Her parents host bridge parties, and many people come, filling the house with the alien scent of cigarettes. Elaine... (full context)
Part Seven: Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
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Time and Memory Theme Icon
...the other girls when Cordelia falls. They were on their way home towards the wooden footbridge, and Cordelia slipped down a hill. Enraged at the laughter, she throws Elaine’s knitted hat... (full context)
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Elaine finally manages to haul herself out of the ravine once the lights are already all out. Nothing hurts anymore, and she feels like she’s... (full context)
Part Eight: Half a Face
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War vs. Environmental Catastrophe  Theme Icon
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Time and Memory Theme Icon
...Grade Six at a new school, which has been built on their side of the ravine, so they no longer have to take the school bus or walk over the collapsing... (full context)
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Time and Memory Theme Icon
...but feels closed off. Her parents work on their garden, and someone tears down the bridge at the ravine in order to replace it with a concrete bridge. One day, Elaine... (full context)
Part Nine: Leprosy
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War vs. Environmental Catastrophe  Theme Icon
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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 another branch of the same ravine. It... (full context)
Gender and Cruelty Theme Icon
War vs. Environmental Catastrophe  Theme Icon
Identity and Conflict Theme Icon
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Although Elaine had dismissed the notion of bad men in the ravine, this event forces her to reflect on the issue; part of her thinks that there... (full context)
Part Ten: Life Drawing
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...accidentally fallen. In this painting, three women are depicted falling as though accidentally off a bridge, with their skirts open to the wind, onto the men lying unseen below. (full context)
Part Eleven: Falling Women
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
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...there, all these years later, or if someone found them when they built the new bridge. Stephen continues to keep the secrets of the past, which reassures Elaine that he is... (full context)
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...manage to escape anyway. Back home, Elaine dreams of Cordelia falling from a cliff or bridge making a snow angel in the empty air and ends up sending her a note... (full context)
Part Fourteen: Unified Field Theory
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
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The last picture, Unified Field Theory, shows a woman dressed in black on a bridge—the Virgin of Lost Things, holding an oversized cat’s eye marble in her hands. Under the... (full context)
Part Fifteen: Bridge
Art, Science, and Religion Theme Icon
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...school, thinking about how she always feels disliked on these streets. She heads to the bridge, rebuilt in concrete—but, to her, it’s the same bridge. She thinks of the buried marbles,... (full context)