Relationships In Cat

’s Eye By Margaret Atwood Essay, Research Paper

Throughout the novel Cat s Eye by Margaret Atwood, Elaine Risley s relationships are almost always with people who need her more than she needs them. Cordelia, Mr. Hrbik, the drunken woman, and the boys Elaine dates in high school are all dependent on Elaine. Elaine depends on their need for her and is in fact drawn to neediness.

The boys Elaine dates in high school are her silent companions. She controls the relationships because she understands that what boys need is silence and she gives them that. Elaine acknowledges that she does not love these boys and she doesn t take the relationships seriously. My relationships with boys are effortless, which means I put very little effort into them. (254). The only part of the boys that Elaine claims to need is their bodies. She also needs boys to escape from the girls in her life, however. To Elaine, the boys she dates are a diversion, no more than something to take her mind off of her difficulty in dealing with girls. At this point, Elaine is innocent of the pain that men can cause because she only sees the pain that girls cause.

When Elaine reaches college, she begins a relationship with Mr. Hrbik, her Life Drawing teacher. She enters the relationship with innocence, and leaves it with an understanding of the complexities of adult relationships. In the beginning of the relationship, she respects Josef and lets him rearrange her. She recognizes early in the relationship that she is dependent on Josef s unpredictability in bed coupled with his desperate need. She is helpless in the face of this need. I am in love with his need. (315). When Josef s relationship with Susie is ended, the full burden of his need is transferred to Elaine. He is hurt by Susie s pain and ending of their relationship and he expects Elaine to comfort him. This proves to be too much for Elaine to handle. … he is too heavy for me. I can t make him happy… (342). She has realized that men are not always what they appear to be and so she is more mature. With her maturity, she is able

to leave Josef by simply walking away. Thus she ends the relationship with Mr. Hrbik.

When Elaine sees the drunken woman lying on the sidewalk she can t help but stop. She watches everyone else walk by, avoiding and ignoring the old poor woman, yet she can not bring herself to do the same. Elaine is weakened when she sees others in need. The woman calls out to Elaine weakly and Elaine can t escape- … she s got me now. (162). Elaine recognizes that

the woman is drunk and would be a burden but it is too late. Elaine helps the woman up and gives her money to fulfill her imagined obligation. The woman s desperation debilitates Elaine even as she tries to get away. Even though she helped the woman up and gave her money when no one else would, Elaine feels guilty because she walks away. She feels responsible for this stranger when in reality she is not. In this section, Elaine summarizes her powerlessness when

faced with others desperate need. In the clutch of the helpless I am helpless. (163).

Elaine is faced with a similar situation later in the novel when she is approached by a poor Middle Eastern girl who claims to be a poor mother of four, escaped from a war-torn country. She reacts in much the same way, giving the woman money and then walking away. This time Elaine points out that she has power over the girl and it makes her uncomfortable. She also, however, realizes that she does not have power over the situation, whether her story is true

or not, and this makes her no less uncomfortable. It s obscene to have such power; also to feel so powerless. (334). She sees the woman s hand as beautiful and her own as repulsive. Despite her own kind actions, Elaine views the poor woman as superior to and more deserving than herself.

All of the relationships that Elaine has stem from her relationship with Cordelia. She compares both the drunken woman and the poor mother to Cordelia. Of the drunken woman, she says Her eyes are not brown but green. Cordelia s. (163). When the poor Middle Eastern mother taps her on the shoulder, Elaine turns to the girl and calls her Cordelia. The basis for Elaine s association of dependency with Cordelia lie in her childhood. Cordelia is in control of the relationship. She tells Elaine what to do and how to feel. Elaine follows her because she is unfamiliar with female relationships. After Cordelia and the other girls they are friends with abandon her and she nearly freezes to death, Elaine reaches a turning point. In her own mind, she realizes that they needed her to be there so that they could mock her. In this way, they could feel better about themselves. They need me for this, and I no longer need them. (208). However, Elaine can t escape Cordelia s need. When they become closer again later in the novel, it takes time for Elaine to realize that she is in control. She becomes aware of this when they are in the cemetery. … energy has passed between us, and I am stronger. (250). Elaine develops a reputation for having a mean mouth and she takes particular delight in using it on Cordelia. Cordelia reaches out to Elaine when she is put in the asylum but Elaine deserts her. Instead of feeling guilt, she feels relief. It is a false sense of relief, however. Elaine is not able to fully understand that which she began to understand as a child until the end of the novel. She realizes all of the emotions that she felt when Cordelia was around- the fear and the need to be loved- when they were young were not her own. They are Cordelia s; as they always were. I am the

older one now, I m the stronger. (443). Cordelia needed to make Elaine feel insecure to cover up her own insecurity. Elaine always felt inferior, so she felt the need to be needed.

Cordelia s dependence on Elaine s insecurity set the stage for most of Elaine s future relationships. Elaine needed to be depended on so that she could temporarily feel like she was worthy, but the feeling faded eventually. And then she walked away.


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