Cat's Eye Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Cat's Eye.
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Cat's Eye Summary & Study Guide Description

Cat's Eye Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood.

Elaine’s only playmate is her older brother Stephen, and she happily engages in games of war with him. When Elaine is eight years old, her father takes a position as a university professor and they settle down in Toronto. Elaine enrolls in public school for the first time, and is suddenly thrust into the world of girls. She makes friends with Carol Campbell, a girl her age who also rides the bus to school. Carol seems charmed by Elaine’s primitive qualities. Carol has another friend, Grace Smeath, who is a year older. The three girls spend time together after school and on weekends, playing girl games.

Elaine’s family still travels to the northern wilderness in the summer. When they return, Elaine discovers there is a new girl with Carol and Grace. Her name is Cordelia, and she immediately establishes herself as the dominant member of the group. At first, they play seemingly innocent games, but soon Cordelia begins to bully Elaine, and Carol and Grace join in. Under their almost-constant bullying and criticizing, Elaine becomes anxious and nervous, but their friendship is very important to her, so she tolerates the abuse without complaining. It is not until Cordelia causes her to almost be frozen to death that she gets the strength to break ties with the girls. Subconsciously, she erases all memory of what happened to her, and when Cordelia’s mother wants them to walk to high school together, she does not see any reason to object.

Elaine and Cordelia consider themselves to be best friends in high school, even though they really have nothing in common. Elaine develops a mean mouth, and enjoys mocking Cordelia. As Elaine gets stronger in the relationship, Cordelia begins exhibiting signs that she might have some underlying problems of her own. When Elaine gets a fleeting glimpse of a disturbing memory, she begins putting more distance between them. While Elaine succeeds at school, Cordelia fails, and her changing appearance indicates that she, too, may be experiencing emotional turmoil. Cordelia and Elaine begin to see each other less and less frequently.

After high school, Elaine attends university classes as well as night classes of the local Art College. She develops her drawing skill in Life Drawing class and is drawn into an affair with the teacher, Josef Hrbik. There is also another girl from the class involved with Mr. Hrbik, Susie, but she does not know about Elaine. When Susie finds that she is pregnant, she terminates the pregnancy herself and endangers her life. She calls Elaine for help, and Elaine witnesses the horror of a botched abortion. At this point, Susie finds the courage to also terminate her relationship with Josef, leaving Elaine alone in a relationship with a broken man. She begins to treat Josef with contempt and a spirit of meanness, and Josef leaves Toronto in despair.

Now Elaine is left with Jon, who was one of her classmates in Life Drawing class. Their affair began when she was still with Josef. On Jon’s part, it is an open relationship, which makes her uncomfortable. When Elaine discovers she is pregnant, she is afraid to tell Jon, but she won’t try to end it because of what Susie went through. As it turns out, Jon marries her and they have their daughter Sarah. Unfortunately, neither of them is ready or willing to take on the burden of responsible adulthood, and their relationship becomes tumultuous. Elaine is finally driven to attempt to take her own life. Although Jon saves her life, the quality of the relationship remains strained, and Elaine sinks deeper into depression. She leaves Jon and Toronto and takes Sarah with her to Vancouver.

In the meantime, Elaine has seen Cordelia again. She has been placed in a rest home for taking pills. She wants Elaine’s help to leave, but Elaine says she can’t. That is the last time she sees Cordelia, and she will later become obsessed about wondering what happened to her.

In Vancouver, Elaine eventually begins to feel normal again and establishes something of a reputation for herself in the world of art. When she eventually returns to Toronto for the retrospective, she is greeted as a celebrity. At the event, she keeps watching for Cordelia, and when she doesn’t come, Elaine feels completely let down. The next day she misses her plane and takes one more walk—to the ravine where she had broken through the ice. There she sees a vision of Cordelia, and she feels the same dark sensations she felt when the girls were tormenting her. Now, however, she recognizes that the emotions are not in her, but in Cordelia. With new understanding, she reaches out to her old friend and bids her to get out of the cold.

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