Summary: Chapter 61

After Sarah’s birth, Elaine settles into domestic life with Jon. Jon sometimes refers to Elaine as “Mummy” when speaking to Sarah, which Elaine hates.

Elaine goes to a meeting of women artists. The women at the meeting accuse men of holding women back through violence and discrimination. While Elaine finds the anger in these meetings inspiring, they also make her anxious that she is too conventional. She imagines the other women are judging her for being married with a child. 

Elaine paints at night. One painting depicts the Virgin Mary as a lioness. Another shows Mary descending to earth with overturning grocery bags. Jon tells Elaine not to paint at night, and Elaine knows he’d prefer she didn’t paint at all. He sees her paintings as irrelevant. 

Their fights turn violent, and they throw objects at each other. 

Summary: Chapter 62

One of the women from the art group, Jody, organizes a group exhibition and chooses to display some of Elaine’s art. They rent an exhibition space in an abandoned supermarket. Jon doesn’t come to the exhibition. As Elaine looks at the exhibition, she believes her work makes less of a statement than the other artists. 

Suddenly, she sees Mrs. Smeath at the exhibition, but then she realizes it must be Grace. Grace asks why Elaine wants to hurt people. Elaine stares ruefully at her paintings of Mrs. Smeath in various stages of undress. However, when Grace’s eyes tear up, Elaine feels powerful. 

In reality, this woman isn’t Grace. The woman throws a jar of black ink at a painting that depicts Mrs. Smeath wrapped in white paper. The newspaper write-up of the exhibition focuses on the ink incident, while dismissing the artwork as “shrill” and “aggressive.” Jody uses these words as advertisement.

Summary: Chapter 63

Cordelia’s parents have sent her to a private asylum for wealthy patients. She calls Elaine after reading about the exhibition in the paper and asks her to visit. 

The nurse allows Elaine to take Cordelia to coffee. Cordelia seems out of it and reveals that the nurses keep her on tranquilizers. Cordelia admits she tried to overdose on medication but begs Elaine to help her escape the rest home. Elaine imagines hiding Cordelia at her place. Jon wouldn’t approve, and Elaine worries about Sarah. She rejects Cordelia’s pleas and is angry at her for even asking. Cordelia accuses Elaine of always hating her, which confuses Elaine.

Elaine dreams of Cordelia falling like in her painting Falling Women. She dreams of Cordelia in the school yard at her present age, angry at Elaine for leaving her. In another dream, one of Jody’s mannequin sculptures carries Cordelia’s head wrapped in a white cloth. 

Elaine tries to write to Cordelia, but the letter comes back returned to sender.

Summary: Chapter 64

Back in the present, Elaine goes to an imitation 1950s diner. She thinks about the movie Mr. Hrbik ended up making. The film depicts two women who go mad because the man who loves them both can’t choose between them. Elaine knows that Mr. Hrbik never saw women as real people, but she didn’t mind because he wasn’t real to her either.

Elaine once made a painting called Life Drawing, which depicts Jon and Mr. Hrbik naked as seen from the back. In Life Drawing, Mr. Hrbik is painting a woman in the style of Pre-Raphaelite art, and Jon is painting one of his action paintings. The model at the center of the painting has a blue glass globe for a head.

Elaine and Jon get a drink at the Park Plaza and then return to his studio to have sex. Elaine knows this is the last time they will sleep together. She invites him to the retrospective, but he says he doesn’t want to go. Elaine realizes that she doesn’t actually want him there.

Summary: Chapter 65

Jon and Elaine’s marriage continues to deteriorate, and Elaine realizes Jon is having an affair. Their arguing comes to a head when Jon asks Elaine if she slept with Mr. Hrbik. Her affirmation enrages him. Jon asks whether she’s seeing anyone else, and Elaine complains that she barely has time to do anything. Infuriated, Jon leaves the apartment.

Elaine starts to feel sick all the time and stops painting. She refuses to meet with Jody because she can’t handle hearing encouragement. One night, Jon doesn’t come home, and Elaine cuts herself with an exacto knife. Jon brings her to the hospital. Elaine refuses to talk to anyone about her suicide attempt, particularly because right before the attempt, she heard a childlike voice telling her to do it.

Analysis: Chapters 61–65

Elaine defies Jon because she has begun to understand that men have agency in relationships and that Jon himself is responsible for many of their problems. Despite Elaine’s prior belief that women have control over how men label them, her relationship with Jon reveals the falsehood of that belief. Early in their relationship, Elaine avoids cleaning at Jon’s place so that he won’t label her a mother, but as he moves into her cleaner apartment and encourages Elaine’s pregnancy, Elaine has now become “Mummy” regardless. Jon, not Elaine, encouraged Elaine to take on this label. Elaine’s painting Life Drawing expresses this reality in the way both Jon and Mr. Hrbik paint the model with no regard for what the model actually looks like, meaning the model has no control over how she’s depicted. The model’s blue globe head recalls Elaine’s cat’s eye marble, and so we can read her as a stand-in for Elaine. Even as the painting depicts the male gaze on Elaine, Elaine, as the painter of Life Drawing, gazes back at the men and takes that power into her own hands. Elaine now sees the gaze as two-way gaze. She evokes this dual agency in describing her fights with Jon, in which she describes them both as throwing things at each other, both at fault.

Elaine’s mistaking the conservative woman at the exhibition for Grace reveals Elaine’s lingering desire for revenge. Although Jody and others interpret the Mrs. Smeath paintings as social commentary, Elaine sees them quite literally as images of Mrs. Smeath that evoke the ways Mrs. Smeath made her feel as a child. Therefore, when not-Grace asks Elaine why she wants to hurt people, Elaine takes the question quite literally as why she would want to hurt Grace and her mother. Her momentary sensation of power recalls the way she felt when she told the vampire story to Cordelia. In both cases, Elaine enjoys recreating her traumatic emotions in those that hurt her. In the case of Cordelia, Elaine turns a moment of comradery into a power play, just as Cordelia brought Elaine into her private circle only to cast her out. Mrs. Smeath caused Elaine to feel constantly scrutinized and disdained, and the unflattering and mocking images of Mrs. Smeath expose her to the same kind of scrutiny. Thus, Elaine uses her art as a kind of justice.

Elaine’s depiction of the start of her career doesn’t at all match the picture she gave Andrea, which reveals her insecurities around women. Although Mr. Hrbik did teach Elaine the fundamentals of figure drawing, he didn’t support her as an artist but rather tried to “finish” her, or mold her into a woman he liked, even dressing her like a Pre-Raphaelite model. Because Elaine doesn’t feel comfortable associating herself with women, her narrative of herself as a painter ignores Jody altogether, even though Jody’s belief in Elaine’s artwork arguably truly launched Elaine’s career. Elaine erases Jody from the narrative because she has seen that women who associate themselves with other women instead of men don’t get taken seriously. As evidenced by her momentary glee at the thought of hurting Grace, Elaine paints women not because she’s a painter but to get revenge on the women who hurt her. Furthermore, painting women allows her to reenact looking through her cat’s eye marble, reducing confusing people and feelings into shapes on a canvas where she doesn’t have to deal with them.

Elaine’s abandonment of Cordelia in Chapter 63 causes Cordelia to begin haunting her. Up until now, Elaine has heard Mrs. Smeath’s voice during her moments of shame, but once she abandons Cordelia, she begins hearing nine-year-old Cordelia encouraging Elaine to harm herself. On the one hand, Cordelia at nine traumatized Elaine, and so imagining Cordelia at that age makes her Elaine’s eternal enemy, deserving of abandonment. However, Elaine still listens to the harmful voice of nine-year-old Cordelia as if she were still nine herself, meaning that Elaine believes that she needs to be punished in some way. After all, if Cordelia is merely an enemy, Elaine shouldn’t feel guilty. Here, Elaine represses the knowledge that Cordelia is vulnerable, and was all the more so as a child. Because Elaine believes that acknowledging the humanity of an enemy would make her weak, she refuses to allow herself either to help Cordelia in the present or to forgive her in the past. Therefore, Cordelia’s ghostly voice acts as a manifestation of Elaine’s guilt and inner conflict. From the way Cordelia occupies Elaine’s thoughts in the future, we can guess that this abandonment has caused Elaine’s guilt-ridden encounters with the women begging for money.