Analysis of literary features on Cat's eye by Margaret Atwood.

Essay by ikhs0324High School, 10th gradeA-, December 2008

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This passage from Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, illustrates the alikeness between Elaine and Cordelia by comparing the girls and the old ladies in the streetcar. Detailed descriptions of the characters contribute to highlighting different themes like friendship, disguising one’s true identity and the notion of time. These are highlighted through various literary features such as metaphor and imagery.

The passage shows a relationship between two girls, Cordelia and the narrator. They seem to be friends in the passage as it is mentioned by the narrator that ‘[they] think [they] are friends’. The phrase ‘we think’ reflects the narrator’s uncertainty about her friendship with Cordelia. Yet, there are many references to them being almost twin-like and identical in the way they dress and act. ‘We’re impervious, we scintillate, we are thirteen’- the use and repetition of the inclusive pronoun ‘we’ further highlights their alikeness. Even though they are friends, the reader is able to sense the narrator’s inferiority to Cordelia through her tone of voice.

It is shown through her comments such as ‘I am almost as good’ or that Cordelia is ‘opaque and glinting’ that the narrator admires or wants to be like Cordelia.

The detailed descriptions of the appearance of the ‘old ladies’ on the streetcar highlights the theme of superficiality. The descriptions show that the narrator’s bias on people stems from their outer appearances, as shown in her observations such as ‘some are respectably dressed’ and ‘others are poorer and foreign looking’. Further, her comment that ‘Cordelia can tell cheap cloth at a glance’ once again reinforces Cordelia’s superiority and her attitude towards superficiality. These attitudes of young girls like the narrator and Cordelia convey how prejudices are deeply embedded in our society.

Metaphors like ‘costumes’ and ‘stage props’, were used to describe people’s willingness to disguise their true identity; ‘costumes’ are normally worn by actors who are impersonating someone else. Description of the old ladies’ make-up further highlights the theme of hiding a true identity of one. The ladies on the streetcar dye their hair ‘straw-blonde or baby-blue’ and ‘their lipstick mouths are too big around their mouths, their rouge blotchy, [and] their eyes drawn screw-jiggy around their real eyes’. Their costume-like clothes and thick make-up like actors on a stage allow them to disguise themselves from others. They reflect some members of the society who do not wish to reveal who they really are because they are afraid of what other people would think about them. These descriptive language and colour imagery invite readers to engage the narrator’s experiences; bright colours to distract people’s attention to their outer appearance. ‘Anything other than white is suggestive’. Also, the two girls wearing ‘men’s work socks inside’ their boots and wearing ‘[their coats with] collars turned up to look like those of movie stars’ shows their desire for glamour and outer beauty which form society’s expectation of girls.

The notion of time is another significant factor in the passage, as can be seen through its structure. The first part recounts the narrator’s childhood and the second is set in her adulthood, when she herself has become like the old ladies, ‘having that [eye problems]…now’ too. However, both the present and the past are written in the present tense, indicating that the memories of the narrator when she was thirteen still take an important part in her life. It is also mentioned at the start of the passage that ‘time is not a line’. This suggests that experiences that we had are not just past, but stays within us to build up what we are now.

This passage from Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood explores the themes of friendship, self identity and notion of time through various literary techniques. Friendship, in conjunction with the notion of time, is valued as a very big part of life of the narrator; not only the friendship, but also one’s memories of childhood are important in a person’s life as well. The passage also reflects prejudices in our society and how deeply they are rooted in us through illustrating people who wish to disguise their true identity. By allowing us to explore the narrator’s experiences, the author allows us to think about the values of relationships and how we can solve the problems of prejudice.

*Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood*No bibliographies