Summary: Chapter 46

Elaine starts avoiding Cordelia, although Elaine doesn’t understand why. When they walk home together, Cordelia talks a lot, pausing occasionally to ask what’s going on with Elaine. Elaine always replies that nothing is wrong. Cordelia jokingly asks Elaine what she thinks of her, and Elaine’s response to this is also to say that she thinks nothing of Cordelia. Cordelia continues to fail classes. Eventually, Cordelia’s parents move her to another school.

Elaine takes her grade thirteen exams. While drawing diagrams for the biology section, she realizes that she will be a painter, not a biologist.

Not long after exams, Cordelia asks Elaine to visit her. Cordelia speaks to Elaine in the same overly chipper voice she uses on boys. Her parents have gotten her a tutor to help her with her summer courses, which means Cordelia failed her year again. Cordelia brags about how she distracts her tutor from studying. Elaine admonishes Cordelia that she has to do something, although she knows Cordelia will never have to earn a living because of her family’s wealth. Cordelia believes that if she goes to university, she’ll end up like her tutor. 

Cordelia mentions the cabbage disaster at the production of Macbeth and begins reminiscing about the past. Elaine becomes desperate to end the conversation before Cordelia takes her memory back any further and makes excuses to leave. 

Summary: Chapter 47

In the present, Elaine waits for Jon to arrive for the lunch they’ve planned. He arrives late, and the two fall into a pattern of gentle ribbing. Jon tells Elaine that she looks well for having sold out, and Elaine mocks his film prop career. Elaine brings up the harsh newspaper write up, but Jon doesn’t see it as harsh. Elaine remembers the way they used to throw things at each other, but with their current distance, she can now feel fondness for Jon. Jon reveals that his new wife has left him and admits some responsibility for it. The two reminisce about an incident that landed Elaine in the hospital that neither of them will take responsibility for. Elaine wonders why it’s easier for her to forgive men than women. 

As she leaves Jon, Elaine remembers a painting she did called Falling Women. She used to think of fallen women as women who hurt themselves on men, as if the men were a rock the women tripped over. The painting depicts women falling off a bridge into a ravine, in which Elaine imagines men that lurk. 

Summary: Chapter 48

Elaine starts attending a night class for life drawing. Elaine isn’t officially a student at the art college, but non-students can attend if they convince the instructor that they’re serious. The instructor, Mr. Hrbik, looks through the drawings Elaine has brought and declares her a complete amateur, but he allows her into the class. The class contains mostly men, with two older women and a girl Elaine’s age named Susie.

After the first drawing session, Mr. Hrbik tells Elaine that she has drawn a corpse, not a body. Her work lacks passion. He tells her she is unfinished, but this class will finish her.

Summary: Chapter 49

In addition to her night classes, Elaine enrolls in University of Toronto’s art and archaeology program because her parents don’t like the idea of her being a painter. Elaine tries to blend in with her female classmates, but they put her on edge. Slowly Elaine starts only caring about what allows her to fit in at her life drawing class and dresses in black. Her university classmates begin to avoid her. 

The two older women in Elaine’s life drawing class, Babs and Marjorie, joke that Elaine now dresses as if for a funeral. Babs and Marjorie are professional portrait artists, and Elaine thinks of them as embarrassing.

Summary: Chapter 50

The boys from life drawing class use Elaine to get them into the “ladies and escorts” sections of beer parlors because they’re nicer than the men’s sections. The boys call Marjorie and Babs “lady painters” and don’t take them seriously. Women who are bad painters are “lady painters,” whereas women who paint well are simply “painters.” The men mock the appearance of the models in life drawing, eyes always turned toward Elaine to gauge her reaction. Elaine enjoys feeling like the exception to a rule. 

She doesn’t like the way her classmates mock Mr. Hrbik. They make fun of him for being a European immigrant who lost his home between World War II and the Hungarian Revolution. They resent having to take life drawing because the art world cares about action painting. 

One day, Susie joins the group at a beer parlor. Elaine judges Susie for her makeup and tight clothing and decides Susie is probably too stupid to get into university. 

Analysis: Chapters 46–50

Once Elaine starts ignoring Cordelia, Cordelia flounders, highlighting that she relied on Elaine’s presence for support. Cordelia appears to have a constant need to assert herself, both in the way she talks constantly and in the way she asks Elaine for feedback. While the feedback question is ostensibly a joke, that Cordelia repeats it suggests that she may, on a certain level, require a true answer. Elaine’s answer, “Nothing,” creates distance between them because it’s both an insult and a refusal to support Cordelia. When Elaine visits Cordelia, Cordelia appears to have lost control over her life completely, failing school again and gaining weight. Her small rebellion of manipulating her tutor works as an opportunity for her to create agency in her life by defying her parents. In this light, Cordelia brings up their past as a way to reconnect with Elaine and reestablish her identity. Although Elaine clearly assumes only the worst could come out of a conversation, Cordelia goes out of her way to approach their past as benignly as possible. Cordelia starts discussing their past with a moment where she felt low, the cabbage incident, broaching the topic with a spirit of openness and vulnerability that Elaine rejects. 

Elaine’s lunch with Jon demonstrates Elaine's lack of emotional distance from her past. Up to this point, Elaine’s technique of distancing herself has been bound up in numbness and death, but with Jon, it allows her to gain perspective as she can look back on her relationship with him with fondness. Elaine’s calm with Jon contrasts to her general anxiety over Cordelia, which suggests that even though both relationships took place in Toronto, Elaine feels more distant from the pain in her relationship with Jon. Elaine and Jon have had to co-parent Sarah together, which clearly has led to Elaine processing her feelings. We don’t yet know the stakes of the hospital incident, but it clearly doesn’t cause Elaine the same visceral nausea she feels in the sections when Cordelia brings up the past. Because Elaine never processed her ravine trauma and she never allowed Cordelia to discuss their past with her, Elaine has no emotional distance from that trauma. Without emotional distance, being in Toronto makes her feel the same way she felt as a child. Therefore, Elaine’s cultivated numbness is incomplete because she has blocked her feelings instead of processing them and has not allowed herself to gain any emotional distance.

Elaine based her painting Falling Women on the strange assertion that men are a force of nature rather than actual people. Elaine doesn’t appear to believe this axiom literally, but rather it’s a guiding principle to how she behaves around men and women. This conclusion acts as an extension of the society versus nature binary that Elaine learned in childhood: if men align with nature, perhaps they actually are a part of nature. Elaine believes women hurt others intentionally, and therefore, her university classmates make her anxious because she can’t trust them. However, she believes men act according to their nature, just as Stephen does as he pleases and just as the boys in elementary school acted freely. Therefore, in Elaine’s mind, men only cause harm by accident, when their natural way of being becomes hurtful. Elaine’s understanding of men as inherently open and not conniving offers an alternate explanation for her ability to find emotional distance with Jon and recover from that relationship’s trauma. Although both Elaine and Jon hurt each other, Elaine believes she couldn’t expect anything better from Jon. She therefore has no need to hold Jon to account in order to forgive him.

Through these chapters, Elaine once again discovers that aligning herself with men over women offers her tremendous social capital. Ironically, Marjorie and Babs are the only professional artists in the class, but because they are older women who produce commercial art, the men in the class consider them ridiculous, calling them “lady painters.” The phrase “lady painter” clearly uses “lady” as an insult instead of a descriptor, much in the same way the hint of anything feminine, such as a sister, could get a boy teased on the playground. While we know Elaine becomes a great painter, Elaine is currently an amateur, less skilled than Babs and Marjorie. However, the men in her class suggest she could have the coveted title of “painter,” free from feminine associations, because they like her. Young and presumably attractive, Elaine allows the boys to use her to drink where they like without complaint and to speak crude things about other women without causing offense, allowing them to behave in an unguarded fashion. This pattern recalls Elaine’s silent phone calls with boys because, again, Elaine silently becomes nothing. Elaine gets to be an exception to how the men view other women because she makes no demands on them.