This passage from Cats Eye by Margaret Atwood, illustrates the alikeness between Elaine and Cordelia by comparing the girls and the old ladies in the streetcar. Detailed descriptions of the characters contribute to highlighting different themes like friendship, disguising ones true identity and the notion of time. These are highlighted through various literary features such as metaphor and imagery.
The passage shows a relationship between two girls, Cordelia and the narrator. They seem to be friends in the passage as it is mentioned by the narrator that [they] think [they] are friends. The phrase we think reflects the narrators uncertainty about her friendship with Cordelia. Yet, there are many references to them being almost twin-like and identical in the way they dress and act. Were impervious, we scintillate, we are thirteen- the use and repetition of the inclusive pronoun we further highlights their alikeness. Even though they are friends, the reader is able to sense the narrators inferiority to Cordelia through her tone of voice. It is shown through her comments such as I am almost as good or that Cordelia is opaque and glinting that the narrator admires or wants to be like Cordelia.
The detailed descriptions of the appearance of the old ladies on the streetcar highlights the theme of superficiality. The descriptions show that the narrators bias on people stems from their outer appearances, as shown in her observations such as some are respectably dressed and others are poorer and foreign looking. Further, her comment that Cordelia can tell cheap cloth at a glance once again reinforces Cordelias superiority and her attitude towards superficiality. These attitudes of young girls like the narrator and Cordelia convey how prejudices are deeply embedded in our society.
Metaphors like costumes and stage props, were used to describe peoples willingness to disguise their true identity; costumes are normally worn by actors who are impersonating someone else. Description of the old ladies make-up further highlights the theme of hiding a true identity of one. The ladies on the streetcar dye their hair straw-blonde or baby-blue and their lipstick mouths are too big around their mouths, their rouge blotchy, [and] their eyes drawn screw-jiggy around their real eyes. Their costume-like clothes and thick make-up like actors on a stage allow them to disguise themselves from others.
They reflect some members of the society who do not wish to reveal who they really are because they are afraid of what other people would think about them. These descriptive language and colour imagery invite readers to engage the narrators experiences; bright colours to distract peoples attention to their outer appearance. Anything other than white is suggestive. Also, the two girls wearing mens work socks inside their boots and wearing [their coats with] collars turned up to look like those of movie stars shows their desire for glamour and outer beauty which form societys expectation of girls.
The notion of time is another significant factor in the passage, as can be seen through its structure. The first part recounts the narrators childhood and the second is set in her adulthood, when she herself has become like the old ladies, having that [eye problems]now too. However, both the present and the past are written in the present tense, indicating that the memories of the narrator when she was thirteen still take an important part in her life. It is also mentioned at the start of the passage that time is not a line. This suggests that experiences that we had are not just past, but stays within us to build up what we are now.
This passage from Cats Eye by Margaret Atwood explores the themes of friendship, self identity and notion of time through various literary techniques. Friendship, in conjunction with the notion of time, is valued as a very big part of life of the narrator; not only the friendship, but also ones memories of childhood are important in a persons life as well. The passage also reflects prejudices in our society and how deeply they are rooted in us through illustrating people who wish to disguise their true identity. By allowing us to explore the narrators experiences, the author allows us to think about the values of relationships and how we can solve the problems of prejudice.