In North America Atwood is considered a major poet, but it was her novels which first brought her to the attention of the British public, in particular women who found much with which to identify in her feminist fables. .
The protagonist of her first novel, The Edible Woman, is Marian MacAlpin, a perfectly 'ordinary' young woman, fresh out of university and happy with her allotted role in life. She has a job in market research with few prospects, but this hardly matters since her principal goal is marriage. Her conventional, well mannered boyfriend, Peter, accepts Marian's self appointed role as unquestioningly as she does herself, regarding her balance and pragmatism as an ideal. Marian is one of three female prototypes presented in the novel, contrasted with her flatmate, Ainsley, a boisterously independent, man-hunting young woman, and Clara, a friend from college, angelic and frail, at once part of the material world and yet somehow above it. Both women, however, see their biological destiny: Ainsley"'"s hunt is for an 'ideal' partner to father her children, while Clara is perpetually pregnant. .
From the moment she agrees to marry, Marian's determination to cling to the down-to earth image of herself everyone knows and accepts is challenged by intimations of self fragmentation. She appears to oscillate between the need for masculine certainties and a feeling of feminine disembodiment, as at the women's Christmas party at the office: 'She felt suffocated by this deep Sargasso-sea of femininity. She drew a deep breath, 'clenching .
her body and mind back into her self like some tactile sea creature withdrawing its tentacles; she wanted something solid, clear: a man; she wanted Peter in the room.' At the same time as she yearns for a force which will bring her existence into sharp focus, something in her rebels against the logic of coherence. Appropriately, in a book so consistently peppered with images of eating, chewing, swallowing and cooking, her rebellion manifests itself as symbolic anorexia nervosa, a gradual rejection of all food.