Cat's Eye Identity

1385 Words6 Pages
Margaret Atwood’s novel Cat’s Eye is the non-chronological story of Elaine Risley’s life, told in her voice through vignette flashbacks as she reminisces on her life, preparing for a retrospective of her work as an artist in Toronto.
Atwood explores the fractured Canadian identity both through the protagonist’s binary mode of viewing the world, and through the opposing Canadian landscapes on which the story is set. As Goldblatt states, Atwood’s “protagonists' early days are situated in a virtual Garden of Eden setting, replete with untamed natural environments. Exploring shorelines, gazing at stars, gathering rocks, and listening to waves, they are solitary souls, but not lonely individuals: innocent, curious, and affable creatures. Elaine Risley in Cat's Eye. recall[s] idyllic days unfolded in a land of lakes, berries, and animals” which stands in stark contrast to the landscapes of her later life (275). The transformation of the Risley family’s lifestyle – abandoning a transient, rural life for a sedentary, suburban home – marks the beginning of Elaine’s self-alienation from those deemed to be “the other.” As a result, the city itself elicits strong emotions from her: “The fact is that I hate this city. I’ve hated it so long I can hardly remember feeling any other way about it. Toronto was never dull, for me. Dull isn’t a word you’d use to describe such misery, and enchantment” (14). The division of self and the separation of protagonist from nature is also paralleled in Elaine’s later life, when she chooses to relocate to Vancouver to escape the confines of Toronto: “It’s the city I need to leave as much as Jon, I think. It’s the city that’s killing me. I buy us tickets to Vancouver, which has the advantage of being warm, or so...

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...inally evolved beyond believing human interaction relies upon us-or-them relationships, defined by the alignment with or rebellion against one of the two genders by its participants.
Similarly, Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion examines the fractured identity of Canada as a whole through the lens of his protagonist’s binary world view and migration across geographical spaces.
As Lehmann states, “Ondaatje’s fiction has been characterized by a concern for the lives of migrants. More precisely, it predominantly focuses on the questions of identity that result from the characters’ migrations” (281). For Ondaatje, the intranational migration of Patrick Lewis from the rural Canadian landscape to urban Toronto, and the binary view of the wealthy and poor classes he finds there, are parallels to the political and social conflicts present within the country at large.
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