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Volume 39, Number 1 (2014)

A Paler Shade of Green: Suburban Nature in Margaret Atwood’s Cat's Eye

March 25, 2015
June 1, 2014


Critics of Canadian literature such as Cheryl Cowdy, Frank Davey, and Franca Bellarsi construe suburbia as existing somewhere in between the concrete jungle and the verdant wilderness. The ecocritical implications of this geographic and critical positioning, however, have not yet been thoroughly examined. Common images of suburbanites portray people in the “enclosed private worlds of fences, parlours and automobiles,” cut off from their larger communities and environments in collective isolation. Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye (1988) depicts how this separate-from-nature culture is fostered. As Elaine Risley faces the repressed, traumatizing experiences of her childhood, she confronts her and her society’s various interrelationships with the natural world, showing how a suburban upbringing can produce unsatisfactory relationships with both human and non-human nature. In so doing, Cat’s Eye critiques common, urbane conceptions of nature from a point of view that is quintessentially ecocritical. Aside from the obvious environmental concerns vocalized by Elaine’s biologist father, ecological issues are relevant to three other aspects of the novel: Elaine’s early childhood in northern Ontario, her later summer vacations there, and the social pressures and cultural practices that Elaine experiences in suburbia. Through these elements of the narrative, Cat’s Eye articulates some of the fundamental relationships with nature experienced by those living in suburban Canada and seeks to move beyond conventional portrayals of this relationship.