Cat’s Eye


Margaret Atwood

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Cat’s Eye, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Art, Science, and Religion

A certain tension between art and science runs throughout Cat’s Eye. In fact, Atwood’s novel can be seen as a series of experiments on the path to understanding the world—as the daughter of an entomologist, protagonist Elaine Risley starts by following the pattern set by her family, which is oriented towards atheism and science; she then tests out Christianity as she comes of age, before eventually becoming a painter. Elaine reaches for art, science…

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Gender and Cruelty

Although Margaret Atwood’s novels have often been described as strongly feminist, Cat’s Eye both engages with and resists feminist ideology. The novel deals extensively with the differences between men and women, yet focuses on cruelties specific to female/female relationships and the fraught nature of developing a female identity. Although the specter of male violence remains present at the outskirts of the novel, the most potent examples of physical and psychological damage in Elaine’s life…

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War vs. Environmental Catastrophe

Both of the timelines in Cat’s Eye confront themes of war and catastrophe. Elaine comes of age in the period immediately following the Second World War and describes a childhood defined by the social and economic effects of the fighting. She specifically focuses as much on the distinctive effect that it had on social values of the period, encouraging a sense of thrift and national unity. In the book’s more recent timeline, however, contemporary society…

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Identity and Conflict

Much of the novel confronts how identities form in adolescent relationships. As a child, Elaine experiences severe bullying at the hands of her closest friends, which scars her and affects the work she later produces as an artist. However, Elaine does not merely take on the role of the victim—she also observes the ways in which she begins to merge with her bullies—Cordelia in particular—and take on some of their traits and behaviors. She…

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Time and Memory

Cat’s Eye unfolds across two separate but interweaving timelines, which depict different phases in the life of its artist-protagonist, Elaine Risley. The timelines of the novel jump back and forth between Elaine’s childhood growing up poor in Toronto following the second World War and her recent (and reluctant) return to the city for her first retrospective exhibition as an aging painter. The novel’s structure itself thus reflects Elaine’s skepticism about the notion of…

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