The autumn before I started grad school, I read Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman. I wasn’t sure how to feel about the end of the novel, in which the protagonist bakes and eats a cake that looks like herself, so I searched databases to find what critics were saying.
As I quickly realized, very few people have written on The Edible Woman, and even fewer are willing to make a claim about its ending. Instead, most scholars focus on the protagonist Marian’s anorexia nervosa, arguing that it is symptomatic of the loss of identity she suffers in her romantic relationship.
While I do agree with this claim, I think Atwood’s conception of consumption is far more complex than such a statement suggests, especially when we start to think about how older women in the novel are consumed and commodified. In fact, when my roommate joked that I keep writing about how “women are eaten by men,” I joked back, “That’s a bit of a reductive way of putting it.” Consumption for Atwood isn’t just eating food or engaging in cannibalism or having sex or controlling someone’s agency or being a capitalist consumer. It’s all of the above!
Thus, rather than continue the existing discussion regarding the female body and its relationship to food, my master’s project attempts to understand The Edible Woman as the culmination of arguments regarding economies of aging and consumption in relation to gender. I hope to provide a new understanding of how aging women in the novel are consumed, and what precisely this means in the context of a postmodern capitalist culture.
— Cailin Roles (M.A. ’19)