Summary: Chapter 11

Christmas rolls around, bringing with it presents and changes. Elaine receives an album to go along with her camera. She also gets a plastic purse where she keeps her allowance. While the public areas of the house, like the living room, are now finished, the family bedrooms remain unfinished.

Grace sometimes asks Elaine over after school without Carol, claiming she can only have one friend over because her mother has a bad heart. Every afternoon, Mrs. Smeath naps on the living room couch. Unlike Mrs. Campbell, her hands are scrubbed raw from washing. Elaine sees the laundry drying and realizes Grace’s sisters wear hand-me-downs. Mrs. Smeath acts disdainful when Carol tells her about her mother’s twinset. Elaine wonders what exactly is wrong with Mrs. Smeath’s heart.

In the present, Elaine notes that she is now ten years older than Mrs. Smeath and wonders why she hates her so much. 

Summary: Chapter 12

Spring comes. Stephen and his friends start playing in the backyard. Elaine learns how to skip rope with Grace and Carol. At school, kids start playing with marbles, each one trying to win as many special marbles as possible. Elaine’s favorite marble is a blue cat’s eye marble that she refuses to risk losing. Instead, she keeps it at home in her plastic purse. Stephen wins so many marbles that he begins to horde them in jars, burying them somewhere in the ravine. 

Summary: Chapter 13

During the summer, the family travels north because of a rare caterpillar infestation Elaine’s father wants to study. Elaine returns to wearing pants. They stay in an abandoned logging camp. 

Elaine and Stephen begin to play together, picking blueberries and swimming in the lake. They have contests about how far they can spit water, although Stephen always wins. 

When Elaine’s family returns to Toronto, a new girl accompanies Grace and Carol. 

Summary: Chapter 14

The new girl is named Cordelia. She reaches out her hand to shake hands as if she were an adult and points out dog poop on Elaine’s shoe. Elaine explains that it’s a rotten apple, but Cordelia notes that they squish the same. Elaine feels drawn into a circle of two. Cordelia’s family lives in a two-story house like nothing Elaine has ever seen, and Elaine realizes her own family is comparatively poor. Cordelia has two older sisters, Perdie (Perdita) and Mirrie (Miranda), named after Shakespearean characters. Cordelia says her sisters are gifted, but she won’t answer when Elaine asks if Cordelia is gifted too.

Cordelia likes to try and get Elaine, Grace, and Carol to act out plays. Grace doesn’t like Cordelia’s melodramatic ideas and refuses to play along. When they walk over the wooden footbridge from school, Cordelia points out deadly nightshade and scares the other girls by telling them that the stream under the bridge is made of dead people because it flows from the cemetery. 

Summary: Chapter 15

Because Elaine must now wear skirts all the time, underwear seems more important. She has to be careful how she sits and moves so as not to flash anyone. Meanwhile, the boys joke that they’re not wearing underwear. The girls speculate about what kinds of underwear the female teachers wear.

The kids at school claim that Elaine’s teacher, Miss Lumley, takes off her blue wool bloomers every morning before class. Miss Lumley inspires fear in the children with her strictness, and she slaps misbehaving students with a rubber strap herself instead of sending them to the principal. Miss Lumley has a particular love of order, only hanging up student art projects if they are neat and symmetrical enough. She particularly loves teaching the students about the British Empire, elevating the United Kingdom above Canada. She tells horror stories about life outside the Empire’s borders. 

Elaine has a fear of Miss Lumley and her rumored bloomers because she feels they represent something that is wrong about both her and Miss Lumley. She doesn't think of herself as really being a girl, but she isn’t a boy, and she identifies Miss Lumley as having that same thing wrong with her.

Analysis: Chapters 11–15

Mrs. Smeath introduces a different form of suburban womanhood from the one we see in the Campbell house. It’s clear from the hand-me-down clothes Grace’s younger sisters have to wear that the Smeath family isn’t as wealthy as the Campbells, meaning that they cannot easily purchase the trappings of middle-class suburbia. For Mrs. Smeath to create a suburban household, she must work extra hard, which may explain her midday collapses. Although Elaine thinks of Mrs. Smeath as unimpressed by Carol’s talk of twin sets, her sharpness also expresses jealousy. Mrs. Smeath’s “bad heart” may be her way of expressing exhaustion, but we can also read Mrs. Smeath’s bad heart metaphorically as meaning that she lacks the capacity to love and care. Mrs. Smeath doesn’t have the patience not to snap at eight-year-old Carol, who doesn’t understand the hurt she’s causing. We also see how Mrs. Smeath limits the amount of care she bestows by only allowing Grace to have one friend over at a time. Young Elaine doesn’t know what to make of this imposing but disengaged-seeming woman, though readers can sympathize with Mrs. Smeath’s exhaustion.

These chapters further the theme of the artificiality of suburban life by introducing the colonial nature of suburbia. The Risley family’s return to the wilderness in the summer emphasizes the unnaturalness of the socialization forced upon them in Toronto. Elaine views her parents return to dressing in similar clothes as dressing like themselves again, making their fancy, gendered clothes a mere pose or mask. Elaine and Stephen play together again without self-consciousness, which emphasizes that boys and girls don’t inherently want to play differently. In both cases, the socializing force of Toronto changes the Risleys’ habits within the confines of the city. Miss Lumley’s zeal for the British Empire clarifies the nature of this socializing force by portraying it as explicitly colonial. The way Miss Lumley contrasts supposedly civilized England with the perilous world beyond mirrors the contrast between clean and tidy suburban mores versus Elaine's life out in nature. It also matches the way Carol spoke of Elaine’s family as if their mannerisms were foreign, as if they hadn’t properly assimilated into suburbia. In this sense, Atwood portrays suburbia as an offshoot of British colonialism, inflicting a different culture onto those who live in it. 

The chapters portray Cordelia as having similar insecurities to Elaine but with markedly different coping mechanisms. Cordelia is the first girl Elaine meets who isn’t disgusted by nature, which paints them as kindred spirits. Atwood also sets up their unconventionality in similar ways. Up to this point, Elaine has looked to Carol and Grace for cues on how to act, just as she used to look to Stephen for guidance. In this way, it’s as if Carol and Grace have become older sisters to Elaine. Cordelia has two gifted older sisters, meaning that while Perdie and Mirrie surpass expectations, Cordelia, like Elaine, doesn’t meet them. However, while Elaine’s means of coping with the expectations of her society has been to observe, Cordelia chooses to act, both in terms of the theater and in terms of being an active character. Cordelia tries to redirect the group’s interests to melodrama, but she fails because Grace and Carol are only interested in imagining suburban womanhood. However, we see how acting will play a major role in Cordelia’s behavior when she introduces herself to Elaine. Here, Cordelia adopts an adult-like manner in order to portray herself as conventional.

Elaine worriedly realizes that she relates to Miss Lumley because Miss Lumley doesn’t perform femininity correctly. Miss Lumley occupies a strange role as someone who teaches children how to behave, enforcing social norms, but she also defies society as an unmarried woman with a harsh disposition. The students collapse this contradiction into the rumor about her wool bloomers. As opposed to the frilly, feminine underwear Cordelia imagines for the other teachers, Miss Lumley’s wool bloomers are unadorned and blue, masculine in a feminine form. Since the girls must focus on hiding their underwear, while the boys can pretend to go without, the rumor that Miss Lumley secretly removes her bloomers before class means she steps from a feminine role to a masculine one. Therefore, Elaine, who would clearly be more comfortable wearing her pants, looks at Miss Lumley’s status as a woman with trepidation. Elaine worries that if everyone knows about Miss Lumley’s supposedly secret bloomers, they might also find out about her own masculine desires.