Art History

Cat’s Eye frequently references the western canon of art history to show how men and women artists face different artistic challenges. Elaine’s work often draws on older artistic movements, representative of her struggle to find meaning in the past. For example, Torontodalisque parodies the Neoclassical painter Ingre’s most famous work, La Grande Odalisque, which depicts a naked woman reclining at an impossible angle. By painting Mrs. Smeath in this ridiculous position, Elaine privately seeks revenge for the contortions of womanhood that Mrs. Smeath believed Elaine should accept. Elaine never replicates the works she references but reinvents them. Because the art world is a male-dominated space, the way Elaine must actively change classic artwork reflects how Elaine must work to carve out space and time for her art. In contrast, Jon’s work follows the artistic trends of the 1950s and 60s to a comical degree. His soup cans directly copy Andy Warhol’s famous screen print, Campbell's Soup Cans. Unlike Elaine’s active engagement, Jon slavishly copies these famous modern artists instead of developing an art style of his own.


Throughout Cat’s Eye, Atwood invokes twins, portraying the relationship between twins as both necessary and parasitic. As a child, Elaine assumes twins operate like the Campbells’ twin beds—identical and symmetrical—and doesn’t understand the twin-like nature of Mrs. Campbell’s twin set sweaters, in which one sweater is more prominent than the other. However, as the novel continues, twins operate more like a twin set than twin beds. Just as one sweater is always on top, one twin always has more power than the other. For example, after her mother’s miscarriage, Elaine dreams her mother birthed a single twin, with its sibling ominously absent. In the comic Cordelia steals, the disfigured twin steals the “pretty” twin’s life, suggesting that only one can thrive. This parallels how Elaine regards herself and Cordelia, whom she recognizes as twin-like. Cordelia’s job at the Shakespeare festival frightens Elaine as if Cordelia’s success precludes her own. Elaine compares the two of them to fairytale twins who have different keys, reliant on each other to unlock the truth. Twins create but also threaten each other’s identity.

Wings and Flying

While wings often represent possibility and hope, in Cat’s Eye, something usually thwarts flight. Elaine describes eating turkey wings as eating “lost flight” when she learns that domesticating turkeys renders them flightless. Stephen, freer from the harsh socialization that Elaine receives, ignores the sadness Elaine sees in wings. As a child, Stephen likes the song “A Wing and a Prayer,” which describes an airplane that has lost one engine, while Elaine recognizes the sadness of this song. She understands the plane’s flight will end in death. Stephen pursues a butterfly into a military testing site and is arrested. Yet while he laughs it off, Elaine notes that his pursuit of flight (as in a flying insect) put him in danger. Accordingly, this motif culminates in Stephen’s death. The hijacking literally stops Stephen’s plane from flying to a conference. When Elaine portrays his fall in One Wing, she paints him falling through the sky, emphasizing her brother’s inability to fly.