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Why is the novel called
"Cat’s Eye" refers to Elaine’s two different ways of seeing in the novel: the painterly gaze and the surveillance gaze. "Cat’s Eye" first refers to Elaine’s marble that she looks through in order to see the world as shapes, like in a painting. Elaine uses this gaze in the paintings she makes to explore her past. As Elaine notices, most respected painters are men, which lends masculine connotations to this painterly gaze. Just as the male artists she encounters project their ideas of Elaine onto her, Elaine uses the masculine, painterly way of seeing the world to paint the women she knows with anger. However, "Cat’s Eye" can also refer to the surveilling gaze of women because of the way western culture commonly associates cats with femininity. We see this interpretation of the phrase in Elaine’s self-portrait,
Cat’s Eye, in which a mirror in the background reveals that three girls—presumably Carol, Grace, and Cordelia—lurk somewhere off the canvas, likely judging Elaine as they did throughout her childhood. The female gaze in
Cat’s Eye searches for flaws to mock and exploit. This double meaning encapsulates Elaine’s emotional state: she fears other women while projecting her own issues onto them.
Atwood opens the novel with the concept of space-time. How are space and time connected in Cat’s Eye?
Cat’s Eye, Elaine’s unprocessed trauma causes physical places to transport her to the emotions she felt in the past, as if she has time traveled. Elaine dreads returning to Toronto because of the way it reminds her of the trauma she suffered there. When she follows her old route from school, she has to remind herself that the children she sees on the street aren’t gossiping about her like the children she grew up with, almost not acknowledging that she has grown up. Some insight into why the past attacks her so vividly here occurs at the 1950s-style diner, when Elaine thinks about how she needs distance to make the past nostalgic and small. In Toronto, she has no physical distance from the past. However, looking through her art at the retrospective allows her to find emotional distance from her trauma. She discovers she now has a better, fuller perspective on the people who hurt her and even forgives Mrs. Smeath. For this reason, when she returns to the ravine in Chapter 74, she can finally let go of the trauma that happened there. The emotional distance keeps her in the present.