Cat’s Eye Essay
Margaret Atwood, in the book Cat’s Eye, uses many literary techniques such as conflict, motifs, and dialogue to illustrate how Elaine is being abused by Cordelia, Grace and Carol and the effects that it has on her both as a child and as an adult.
The poor way that Cordelia, Grace and Carol treat Elaine is the main external conflict in the pages. They boss her around and keep her on a tight leash, she is unable to live freely or relax for even a moment. This external conflict extends to inside of Elaine, where she is conflicted about how she feels about her friends. “She likes me, she wants to help me, they all do. They are my friends, my girl friends, my best friends.” Elaine convinces herself that Cordelia and the others love her, and that they are hurting her because they care about her. However, Elaine still feels conflicted about going to see them and often resorts to hurting herself to avoid them. “I think about putting my finger in there, onto the red-hot grid. All of these are ways of delaying time, slowing it down, so I won’t have to go out through the kitchen door.” Elaine subconsciously dislikes them, but is unable to bring herself to admit it. Atwood uses Elaine’s internal conflict to reveal how she is being emotionally abused by the three girls and is unable to stand up for herself.
Several motifs are used throughout Cat’s Eye, such as the motif of a power struggle and the motif of being watched. “But Cordelia doesn’t do these things or have this power over me because she’s my enemy.” Elaine mentions that Cordelia has a power over her, and Elaine can’t do anything about it. Atwood uses this to demonstrate how Elaine grows up with a desire for the power that she never held as a child and that it shapes who she is as an adult. Atwood also uses being watched as a motif and uses this to show how Elaine is constantly being watched by Cordelia or somebody else. “Carol is in my classroom, and it’s her job to report to Cordelia what I do and say all day.” Cordelia enlists Carol and Grace to watch Elaine’s actions, adding to the motif. Earlier in the book Atwood mentions how Elaine thinks the stars are watchful, and eyes are often mentioned as well. Elaine herself watches things too. “Or I watch the coffee percolator, which is better because I can see everything,” She watches the machines in her kitchen, and notes their every move the same way Cordelia and the others do to her. When Cordelia watches Elaine, she has a power over her that Elaine wants. The way Atwood has Elaine watch things, even just the inanimate objects in her kitchen, exhibits how she wishes for the power that Cordelia has.
The harsh dialogue between Elaine and the girls is often used to express how cruel and controlling Cordelia is. “’Don’t hunch over,’ says Cordelia. ‘Don’t move your arms like that.’” Cordelia’s dialogue is very bossy and commanding, Atwood uses the constant nagging by Cordelia to illustrate how she is hurting Elaine verbally and to display the social dynamics of the group, with Cordelia at the top and Elaine at the bottom. The verbal and emotional abuse manifests itself physically when Elaine starts to hurt herself, or wants to. “I’m peeling the skin off my feet; I can do it without looking, by touch.” This quote reveals that ever since Elaine has started peeling the skin off of her feet for Cordelia, she has kept the practice up for so long that she is able to do it without looking. Elaine often makes comments about how she would like to hurt herself on something, such as burning herself on the toaster. Atwood uses the cruel dialogue of Cordelia to display how Elaine is becoming depressed and self harming. The dialogue is also used to flesh out Cordelia’s character. “’Stand up straight! People are looking!’” Cordelia says things that sound similar to something a parent would say. Atwood uses this to display how Cordelia’s home life may be and also to show off her commanding and bullying personality.
The use of Elaine’s internal and external conflict, the motifs of power and being watched, and the harsh dialogue between the girls are all used to great extent by Atwood to portray the emotional abuse Elaine goes through at the hands of Cordelia, Grace and Carol and the reasoning for her actions and thinking later in life.
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