delanceyplace.com 6/10/08 - the cruelty of girls

In today's excerpt - Canadian author Margaret Atwood writes of the cruelty of little girls to each other, in her semi-autobiographical novel on cruelty among women -- Cat's Eye. Here, we find nine-year-old Elaine with her new best friends, led by Cordelia:

"On the window ledge beside mine, Cordelia and Grace and Carol are sitting, jammed in together, whispering and giggling. I have to sit on a window ledge by myself because they aren't speaking to me. It's something I said wrong, but I don't know what it is because they won't tell me. Cordelia says it will be better for me to think back over everything I've said today and try to pick out the wrong thing. That way I will learn not to say such a thing again. When I've guessed the right answer, they will speak to me again. All of this is for my own good, because they are my best friends and they want to help me improve. ... what did I say wrong? I can't remember having said anything different from what I would ordinarily say. ...

"[Later] I'm standing outside the closed door of Cordelia's room. Cordelia, Grace and Carol are inside. They're having a meeting. The meeting is about me. I am just not measuring up, although they are giving me every chance. I will have to do better. But better at what? ...

"[Several days later] they are on the school bus, where Cordelia stands close beside and whispers in my ear: 'Stand up straight! People are looking!' Carol is in my classroom, and it's her job to report to Cordelia what I do and say all day. They're there at recess, and in the cellar at lunchtime. They comment on the kind of lunch I have, how I hold my sandwich, how I chew. On the way home from school I have to walk in front of them, or behind. In front is worse, because they talk about how I'm walking, how I look from behind. 'Don't hunch over,' says Cordelia. 'Don't move your arms like that.' ...

"But Cordelia doesn't do these things or have this power over me because she's my enemy. ... Cordelia is my friend. She likes me, she wants to help me, they all do. They are my friends, my girl friends, my best friends. I have never had any before, and I'm terrified of losing them. I want to please.

"Hatred would have been easier. With hatred, I would have known what to do. Hatred is clear, metallic, one-handed, unwavering; unlike love."


author:

Margaret Atwood

title:

Cat's Eye

publisher:

Anchor

date:

Copyright 1988 by O.W. Toad Ltd.

pages:

127-132
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