Summary: Chapter 26

One Saturday, Grace informs Elaine that she and the others will come to meet Elaine. Elaine goes outside to meet them, but Cordelia scolds her that they didn’t say she could come out to meet them. Elaine vomits and has to go home.

Armed with this new way of avoiding her friends, Elaine fakes being sick so she can stay home from school. She reads women’s magazines while she lies in bed and sees that no matter what women do, something about them will be imperfect.

Summary: Chapter 27

Spring returns. Elaine carries her cat’s eye marble in her pocket so that she can hold onto it. She believes it allows her to see what it sees. In her "cat’s eye vision," people become images that she can look at dispassionately. 

After school ends, Elaine’s family goes north so her father can do fieldwork, much to Elaine’s relief. One day, she finds a decaying dead raven and pokes it with a stick because she knows it won’t feel anything. 

Stephen sets up chess problems and identifies butterflies in his butterfly book. Elaine’s mother makes chokecherry jam, which is so red it looks poisonous.

Elaine dreams that the raven is alive but still decaying. In another dream, her dress doesn’t fit, and her body bulges out. Her cat’s eye marble falls from the sky and hits her, and it’s icy cold. She’s trapped on the bridge above the ravine as it crumbles, but the bridge has become detached from the road where people watch. She makes chokecherry jam, but the chokecherries become deadly nightshade and the jam becomes blood. 

Summary: Chapter 28

Elaine sits in the food hall at Simpson’s. From her seat at the espresso counter, she can see a shoe repair and finds herself relieved that people still repair old things instead of discarding them.

Elaine begins to think of her mother, who hated housework. She wonders if her mother knew about how the other girls treated her, but she acknowledges that back then her mother would have had fewer choices.

Elaine once did a painting of her mother, called Pressure Cooker, in the form of a double triptych. The top three panels show her mother in a dress, the first depicting her in a detailed pencil drawing, the second through a collage, and the third with raised outlines depicting the figure. The bottom panels show the same progression, but in reverse, and her mother wears slacks while making jam outdoors. She derides critical attempts to make this painting about gender roles. She painted it not long after her mother’s death and wanted to resurrect her. 

Outside Simpson’s, Elaine encounters a drunk woman lying on the ground. Elaine gives her ten dollars. The woman blesses Elaine and calls her “our lady,” but adds that Elaine doesn’t love her. Elaine draws back and notices the woman’s eyes are green like Cordelia’s. As she walks away, Elaine believes she didn’t offer the woman money out of kindness and knows herself as vengeful and sly.

Summary: Chapter 29

Carol and Elaine start fifth grade with Miss Stuart, who’s Scottish. The students love her, but Elaine feels too numb to care. She clings to her cat’s eye marble, which she imagines allows her to look impartially at her friends. She imagines eating nightshade berries or jumping into the ravine while Cordelia coos at her encouragingly. 

Elaine’s mother suggests that Elaine could play with other girls. Elaine panics, worried that her mother will tell the other mothers, which would be terrible because Elaine doesn’t see her mother as a real adult. Her mother encourages her to stand up for herself instead of being spineless, which Elaine interprets to mean that the bullying is her own fault. When her mother says she wishes she knew how to help Elaine, Elaine understands that her mother is powerless. 

Summary: Chapter 30

Elaine’s parents have bridge parties, and Elaine takes comfort in seeing that Mr. Banerji also seems bewildered. She assumes that his continued survival means that she, too, will survive. 

All of Toronto prepares for Princess Elizabeth’s upcoming tour. Elaine remembers how Miss Lumley described Princess Elizabeth’s bravery and heroism during the Blitz and looks forward to the visit because she believes it will somehow change her. Elizabeth’s route through the city goes right past Elaine’s house, and she waits outside eagerly in the drizzling rain. However, the car goes by too quickly for Elaine to see Princess Elizabeth. Elaine realizes that she would have had to throw herself in front of the car and stop it if she wanted Princess Elizabeth to somehow notice her and change her life. 

Analysis: Chapters 26–30

In these chapters, Elaine discovers that womanhood, not just girlhood, involves facing constant, no-win judgment. While faking sick, Elaine turns to the women’s magazines as a resource because they theoretically offer proper images of womanhood Elaine can copy, but instead she discovers that women always do things wrong. To her dismay, the magazine images police adult women, enacting the same surveillance she suffers from her friends. For example, Elaine has already experienced surveillance and judgment in the way her friends find a reason to torment her no matter how well she does on her Sunday school exams. Through these magazines, Elaine learns that she will not grow out of imperfection, but it will follow her to adulthood. Worse still, she learns that women relate to each other by judging and policing one another. This realization from childhood explains Elaine’s present-day defensiveness. She doesn’t trust Charna or Andrea because she believes female friendships are inherently antagonistic power struggles. Elaine also applies this assessment of women as untrustworthy to herself when she offers aid to the drunk woman. This suggests she had an as yet unknown ulterior motive for her generosity.

These chapters introduce Elaine’s use of her cat’s eye marble as a coping technique that offers relief, but that relief comes only in the form of numbness. Elaine describes the effect of looking through her cat’s eye as reducing her friends to shapes, like in a painting, which makes Elaine an observer instead of a participant in her own life. As an observer, Elaine doesn’t have to take on as many emotions as a participant. Also, an observer has the power to continue watching something or to look away, whereas a participant can get trapped in the action. By making herself an observer of her own life, Elaine has distance from the events around her, even as they happen to her. For example, Elaine displaces her emotions onto the dead raven that can no longer feel any pain no matter how many times she pokes it. Elaine believes herself to be like the raven, impervious to poking, but the raven is dead and Elaine is not. We can read Elaine’s fascination with the raven as Elaine questioning whether how death differs from her current emotional state. This feeling expands in the suburbs in Elaine’s suicidal thoughts.

Elaine has complicated feelings toward her mother because she believes her mother’s unconventional femininity left Elaine vulnerable. Child Elaine cannot recognize her mother as an adult because her mother doesn’t actively model “female” behavior or offer statements of identity like Mrs. Smeath. Present-day Elaine doesn’t even remember her mother’s concern and advice, highlighting how trivial her mother’s sympathy felt. Elaine captures her mother’s powerlessness in Pressure Cooker. The triptych depicts the way Elaine’s mother becomes less herself in suburbia, going from a full rendering to an outline, and she becomes stronger and more herself outdoors. In the way these progressions sit on top of each other, the outlined image of her mother in pants rests directly below the fully rendered skirted version, suggesting that in the indoor world of suburbia, her mother in her true form lacks power. The collage sections in the middle emphasize that Elaine doesn’t understand any middle ground or way to transition between these two extremes. Her mother has left her to cobble together the answer of how to bridge the gap between her individualistic mother and the conformist women around her. 

Elaine’s insistence that her dreams aren’t about Cordelia raises the suspicion that they actually do involve her, at least abstractly. The dream about the nightshade most directly refers to Cordelia. Elaine mistakes nightshade, a poisonous suburban plant, for chokecherries, a wild but safe plant, in the same reversal that caused her to believe Cordelia was a wild kindred spirit instead of a poisonous suburban bully. The chilly marble and the dead raven both evoke the numbness Cordelia has left Elaine with. The clothes dream and the bridge dream both demonstrate Elaine’s growing awareness of the impossibility of ever belonging in suburbia, as Cordelia constantly reminds her that she doesn’t. Elaine’s shame over not being able to stuff her body into too tight clothes represents the ill fit of suburban girlhood. In the bridge dream, Elaine finds herself trapped and literally cut off from general society. This dream introduces the element of time: Elaine only has until the bridge falls to get over to where people wait. Present-day Elaine enacts the fears raised by this dream when she discusses aging because she fears she’s running out of time to reach an unknown level of success or perfection.