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Elaine wants to leave both Jon and Toronto. Worried that she will commit suicide and leave Sarah motherless, Elaine buys a train ticket for Vancouver. Jon catches her on her way out but admits that he can’t stop her.
Elaine gets a job restoring furniture. The women artists in Vancouver welcome her because the ink-throwing incident has made her notorious. However, Elaine finds these women even more intimidating than those in Toronto. They discuss the ways men have hurt them, but Elaine doesn’t think she has anything worth sharing. She believes she and Jon hurt each other equally. Elaine begins to avoid these gatherings, convinced the women gossip about her and want to improve her.
Elaine’s artwork becomes fashionable and starts to sell.
Eventually she meets Ben, whom she finds charmingly conventional. They get married. Ben helps her with the financial side of her business, and eventually they have Anne.
In the present, Elaine wakes up late, anxiously killing time before the retrospective. She follows her old route home from school. She watches the girls walking home in their jeans, and thinks they sound quieter than they did in her day—though she acknowledges she might be too tall to hear them.
Stephen died five years prior to Elaine’s present because of someone’s idea of justice.
Elaine pictures his final moments, sitting on an airplane on his way to a conference in Frankfurt. The plane sits on a runway, but Stephen doesn’t know which country they’re in because his plane has been hijacked. The hijackers have allowed women and children to leave, and they talk with air traffic control about releasing the other hostages. Stephen hopes everyone remains calm. The men order Stephen to stand up. They lead him to the front and push him out of the plane.
Elaine remembers a story Stephen told her years earlier about how if one twin were to go fast enough around the earth in a spaceship for a week, he’d return to earth to find his brother ten years older. Now she will age, and Stephen will not.
Elaine’s parents never fully recover from Stephen’s death. After Elaine’s father dies, her mother gets ill. Elaine goes to visit her and help out around the house. Elaine’s mother talks about Stephen as if he’s permanently twelve.
Elaine’s mother mentions the difficult time Elaine had with her friends from elementary school, and Elaine thinks her mother must be losing her mind. Her mother notes that she always believed Grace was behind the torment because Cordelia and Elaine were best friends in high school. Elaine doesn’t understand what she’s talking about, even when her mother brings up the ravine.
Elaine and her mother go through the boxes in the cellar. When she finds her red plastic purse, Elaine’s mother suggests throwing it out. However, there’s a rattling inside, and they find the cat’s eye marble. Elaine gazes into the marble and sees her life.
Elaine reaches the schoolyard, but the school has been rebuilt. The doors no longer divide boys and girls. She climbs up the wooden steps to the top of the hill. She can hear the voices of school children and begs Cordelia to let her out. She no longer wants to be nine years old.
Stephen’s death forces Elaine to begin reconsidering her idea of justice. According to what justice and vengeance has meant to Elaine thus far, the idea that Stephen died for justice means that the hijackers believed that in some way Stephen’s death was equal recompense for an unknown slight against them. However, Stephen has nothing directly to do with whatever conflict these hijackers represent. But he is white, male, and Canadian, which makes him representative of those whom the hijackers want to retaliate against. Elaine herself operates with similar logic when she treats both Andrea and Susie as generic representatives of womankind instead of as individuals. The hijackers don’t hate Stephen, but they hate people like Stephen; Elaine doesn’t hate Susie or Andrea, but she hates women she thinks are like them. Elaine’s emphasis on the idea of justice behind Stephen’s death indicates a growing awareness that “eye for an eye” justice creates unintended targets. We also see the unfocused manner of this form of justice in the generally vague description of the whole hijacking incident. Elaine never mentions which country the men were from or why they felt the need to take hostages, which makes Stephen’s death appear all the more senseless and puzzling.
Elaine’s recovery of the cat’s eye marble reveals her whole life because of the distancing gaze the marble represents. Elaine says that the marble allows her to view her entire life, recovering her lost memories, which also means the marble has allowed her to have enough distance to see her life more clearly. Throughout the entire novel, the marble has allowed Elaine the gift of distance from people and situations that hurt her, and she has turned that distance into her painter’s gaze to create her angry artwork. However, as evidenced by the present state of her relationship with Jon, distance can also confer perspective and a greater understanding of things one couldn’t comprehend in the past because they were too close to the subject. In her lashing out against other women and refusal to acknowledge Cordelia’s humanity, Elaine has remained too close to her nine-year-old feelings to depict, process, or even clearly remember that part of her life. Elaine’s continued guilt and anger throughout the Toronto sections emphasize that she still has much to acknowledge. The cat’s eye’s power of distance this time doesn’t offer numbness, but it marks the beginning of a healing process.
Elaine’s journey to the school yard in particular reflects the way space-time functions in Cat’s Eye. As evident throughout the novel, being in Toronto forces Elaine to viscerally remember her childhood because of the physical proximity of the places where she experienced trauma. However, for most of her walk through Toronto, while old places bring back her memories, the way those places have changed help keep her rooted in the present. For example, she doesn’t lose her sense of time when she passes Mr. Hrbik’s old building. In contrast, when Elaine returns to the part of her old school yard that hasn’t undergone renovation, she emotionally time travels back to being nine years old, experiencing the same confusion, fear, and entrapment she did back then. Throughout the novel, Elaine has existed in both the past and the present, constantly using the present tense in her narration. But in finding a spot that hasn’t changed, Elaine can exist in both times at once.