Summary: Chapter 51

Elaine’s art history class covers the Medieval and Renaissance periods, which include a lot of paintings of the Virgin Mary. The girls find the depictions of breast-feeding uncomfortable and swear that they will bottle-feed. Elaine explains that breast-feeding was a way to portray the Virgin Mary as humble because she didn’t use a wet nurse. She speculates about baby Jesus’s bodily functions, which disgusts the other girls.

Elaine suspects Susie’s having an affair with Mr. Hrbik. In Elaine’s mind, Mr. Hrbik has fallen in love with Susie, whom Elaine believes is merely toying with him. When Susie realizes everyone knows about the affair, she stops trying to hide it. She tells everyone what she knows about Mr. Hrbik, whom she now calls Josef. Marjorie and Babs encourage Susie’s romance, but the boys in the class treat her rudely. Elaine decides she must rescue Mr. Hrbik from Susie.

Summary: Chapter 52

Elaine still lives in her parents’ house in order to save money, but she moves into the cellar to avoid sleeping in her childhood room. 

Her father has been upset because Mr. Banerji has returned to India because the University would not promote him. He feels that scientists should be beyond human prejudice.

Stephen gets arrested in California for accidentally trespassing into a military testing zone while chasing butterflies. Fortunately, the graduate program he’s attending bails him out. In his letters to Elaine, Stephen doesn’t mention his arrest. Instead, he mocks the other students at his school, and ponders the nature of the universe. 

Elaine realizes that what she once saw as bravery in Stephen may actually be naivety. Stephen thinks that just because he’s honest, he can act with no consequence.

Summary: Chapter 53

During the last week of life drawing, Mr. Hrbik meets with each student individually to review their progress. Susie emerges from Mr. Hrbik’s office with teary eyes. When it’s Elaine’s turn for review, Mr. Hrbik praises her progress, and points out a line that’s more relaxed. He then places a hand over Elaine’s, and they kiss. After, Mr. Hrbik takes her home in a taxi. Elaine has sex for the first time. 

Their romance continues all summer. Elaine takes a job waitressing at a restaurant called Swiss Chalet. She moves into an apartment with other girls she knows from work. Elaine only sees Mr. Hrbik twice a week because he still sees Susie. Mr. Hrbik begs Elaine not to tell Susie because she would be hurt, and Elaine enjoys being entrusted with a secret. 

At a French restaurant, Mr. Hrbik tells Elaine that she’s his country, and Elaine realizes she’s sad. 

Summary: Chapter 54

Elaine agrees to meet with Cordelia on her coffee break. Cordelia looks distinguished. Elaine realizes she looks messy in her work uniform and has dark circles under her eyes from staying out with Mr. Hrbik. Cordelia has a summer job at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival playing minor roles. Elaine suddenly feels as if she’s done nothing all year. Cordelia gushes about how the director, a famous English director, thinks she might be up to playing First Witch in Macbeth. Cordelia then brings up the cabbage incident, but Elaine doesn’t want to remember their past. Cordelia mentions that the only thing she liked about those days was shoplifting because it gave her something she could own. 

Elaine goes to see Cordelia perform in The Tempest as one of Prospero’s attendants but cannot tell which attendant Cordelia is because of the lighting effects. 

Summary: Chapter 55

Mr. Hrbik arranges Elaine like he does his models. She catches a glimpse of herself and realizes she looks like a Pre-Raphaelite painting. They go to the restaurant on the roof of the Park Plaza Hotel, which is one of the tallest buildings in Toronto. Mr. Hrbik talks about how he longs to go to America and start working in film. He asks if Elaine would do anything for him, and Elaine says, “No.” 

Jon shows up at the Swiss Chalet one day and invites Elaine for beer later. When Jon asks Elaine if she’s seen Mr. Hrbik, Elaine says she hasn’t, and Jon jokes that he’s disappeared into Susie’s pants. Elaine realizes that Jon is speaking to her like she’s one of the boys. As they leave, Elaine longs not to go home by herself. Jon asks if he can walk her home, and Elaine starts crying. Jon takes her back to his place for coffee and kisses her. They have sex. 

Analysis: Chapters 51–55

Elaine and the men in her drawing class mock Susie out of jealousy. Throughout her life, Elaine has always been the special girl when it comes to male opinions, but Susie has Mr. Hrbik’s attention. Elaine’s snap judgements of Susie portray Susie as both too stupid for university but also as a conniving siren, which suggests Elaine’s assessment of Susie comes not from evidence but from Elaine’s own biases. The boys in the class are also jealous when they turn on Susie when she chooses the older, foreign man over them. They believe she should choose one of them because they are younger and Canadian. Either out of maturity or disinterest in Mr. Hrbik, Marjorie and Babs demonstrate an alternative reaction to jealousy: sisterhood. Marjorie and Babs support Susie’s joy in the romance and immediately turn on Mr. Hrbik when he makes her cry, concerned with a girl’s happiness over men’s approval. Of course, with Elaine’s understanding of how women relate to each other, she cannot see the wisdom in Marjorie and Babs’ behavior. 

Elaine’s understanding of Stephen changes in Chapter 52 when she realizes his disregard of society puts him in danger. Stephen chases the butterfly into the military site because he doesn’t consider humanity worth regarding, and therefore doesn’t consider the wall an important boundary. Stephen is surprised that his explanation about the butterfly doesn’t protect him because he truly doesn’t understand that society expects dishonesty, and the people assume he is lying to them. During Elaine’s childhood, she learned to distrust other people thanks to her disappointments with the likes of Cordelia and Mrs. Smeath, and she even learned to lie to herself about her own motivations as a coping mechanism. Stephen, however, never learned the protective nature of lying and recognizing lies in others, and therefore doesn’t understand why the soldiers don’t believe him. Elaine finds Stephen’s silence about his arrest in his letters to her disconcerting because it means that he considers the matter trivial and learned nothing from it. Less obvious to Elaine is how alone Stephen is in his letters. In placing himself above his classmates, Stephen has made no friends and appears to have no support network in university. Similarly, Elaine has no female friends at this point in her life because she believes herself above other girls. 

Elaine’s panic at Cordelia’s success echoes the rule of the twin comic: only she or Cordelia can succeed. Throughout her entire coffee break with Cordelia, Elaine frantically makes comparisons about their appearances and accomplishments and worries when she believes Cordelia has won this unspoken competition. However, nothing about their meeting requires competition: Elaine doesn’t want to become an actress nor Cordelia a painter. While Cordelia got to choose her “distinguished look,” Elaine wears the uniform from her summer job, and so we can’t actually judge their current appearances by the same metric. Cordelia’s bubbly excitement and over emphasis on her few lines suggests that her theater career isn’t really as great as she makes it sound and therefore requires forced enthusiasm to enhance its impressiveness. What really concerns Elaine, then, is how much Cordelia has improved since their last meeting. The last time Elaine saw Cordelia, Cordelia was miserable and floundering, but now she has direction and hope, whereas now Elaine feels miserable and directionless. In the comic book logic of twins, only one girl gets to be the pretty and happy girl, and Elaine here worries that she has lost. 

Throughout her relationships with Mr. Hrbik and Jon, Elaine plays a passive role, allowing them to control the direction of the relationships and causing emotional strain. Mr. Hrbik determines every aspect of his relationship with Elaine, from what days they see each other, to where they eat, to its exclusivity. Although Elaine doesn’t pursue Jon, she signals her interest in him with tears and silent need, which allows Jon to take the lead in their relationship. Elaine’s treatment of men as forces of nature as opposed to people explains her passive stance with Mr. Hrbik and Jon. When Mr. Hrbik’s starts controlling how Elaine dresses and talking about the future, Elaine enters into a relationship with Jon, as if stepping away from a dangerous patch of woods to a simpler path. For the first time, Elaine’s passive behavior with men has major consequences because Mr. Hrbik’s behavior hurts her. Because Elaine relishes knowing things other women don’t, she carries the knowledge that Mr. Hrbik continues to see Susie and also the emotional labor of his complaints about her. Furthermore, as evidenced by her constant exhaustion and embarrassment at seeing Cordelia, Elaine is truly miserable in this relationship.