f Elaines BullyiTrace the development of the bullying. How convincing are the situation and Elaine’s feelings are portrayed.
-How it changes and increases
We are first introduced to Cordelia and prepared for the future conflict between the two girls when it is mentioned, “The third girl doesn’t wave”. This lack of warmth towards Elaine is a premonition of what is to come, and is at the same time believable- new girls are often wary of each other, uncertain of what the other will be like. This key moment also reveals certain character aspects in both Cordelia and Elaine that continue through out the bullying period, for example Cordelia’s judgmental attitude “her eyes are measuring” or ” Cordelia is looking past me to where my parents are”
To me, this first meeting seems too rich on detail, too unbelievable because of the amount of detail that the adult Elaine has remembered. I cannot remember so far back as to what another person’s eyes looked like even yesterday, perhaps what they said made a deep impact and I would have remembered it, but surely a conversation between two girls when they were eight years old would not have been remembered in such great accuracy so many years afterwards.
Soon after Cordelia’s arrival she begins to intimidate Elaine, albeit unintentionally, by leading Elaine to make judgements and comparisons which she had not made before “It occurs to be for the first time that we are not rich.” Showing the early signs of pressure and bullying starting to happen. Much of Cordelia’s character is also related to the audience at this point, her grownup behaviour is revealed “She has a smile like a grown-ups”, “But children don’t shake hands like this”, “I feel shy with Cordelia”, as is her childish nature, “The soft squishy kind, like peanut butter”. These extreme swings are shown later when Cordelia appears to be friends with Elaine, while really harassing her. This again is typical of children- that they pick up on the behaviour of their parents is quite natural, especially in Cordelia’s circumstances which are related when Elaine visits her with “I ask Cordelia if she is gifted, but she puts her tongue in the corner of her moth and turns away”. The main motive to bully Elaine seems to be the neglect that she has to deal with at home- the older siblings who are ‘gifted’ and her ordinariness and inability to be more like them. It is noteworthy that the child Elaine does not analyse or interpret this, as the adult reader would, this child-like innocence is natural and convincing.
Cordelia does not single Elaine out immediately, instead she tries to control all her ‘playmates’ but Carol is too wimpish, and Grace too strong, ” “I don’t want to,” says Grace “, but Elaine, unaccustomed to the games of girls does not believe that she is being wronged, and therefore suffers the brunt of the attack. More and more sentences in the book start with “Cordelia says” and ‘Cordelia thinks” showing, very realistically, the way that Cordelia is gaining dominance in Elaine’s life subconsciously. This distinctive lack of pronouns continues as she becomes more dominant in the group situations, ” “Try and see,” says Cordelia. ‘Go on down there. I dare you.” But we don’t. ” shows her daring as she become a kind of leader for the group “Cordelia goes right to the railing and leans on it. Gingerly we follow.” “Cordelia makes short work of this game” is the end to what the group had pre- Cordelia done together- cut out pictures from the Eaton’s catalogues. The dominance continues as Cordelia begins to introduce the topic of women and their bodies, her continual fascination shaping the conversation that would otherwise have been deemed improper, yet Cordelia seems to get away with talking about unseemly things, again the boldness showing.
Cordelia continues to dominate games and becomes bolder in her attempts to control and bully while Elaine still believes this is typical girls’ conduct. A part of Cordelia’s miserable behaviour is explained through the analogy of the hole that “She’s very wrapped up in it’s hard to get her to play anything else”. This did not seem very typical or realistic behaviour of a nine-year old child, to want to shut herself away from life by digging a hole in the backyard. When Elaine is put into the hole she blocks the memory, which in itself is quite typical and believable as disturbing memories usually fade quickly. This emotional denial, “I have no image of myself in the whole”, “I can’t remember” is very realistic, and is the start of the bullying in earnest.
It is also very realistic that Elaine’s present behaviour, her “Horror of birthday parties”, is influenced by past situations. The passive behaviour that she has towards the previous incident, the fact that she doesn’t seem to protest creates and attitude for the future when she lets herself be pushed around by others, for example Charna. The past also seems to have influenced her behaviour towards her daughters Sarah and Anne, giving them solid sounding names that could not be made fun of, for example.
As the bullying continues Elaine begins a period of self-mutilation when she hews her hair, peels her feet and bites the skin off her lips. “I would go as far down as the blood”. This shocking, disturbing act is an interesting release to depression and seemed very realistic to me, personally, although all readers might think it improbable and disgusting. It is easy to see how Elaine might be driven to this desperation from the examples of the bullying, for example at the Building where her Father works Cordelia excludes Elaine while on their own, but as soon as Elaine’s Father arrives she acts like a best friend. This two-sidedness is characteristic of children, but I would have thought of older children. Elaine explains why it is that she tolerates all the bullying “I am not normal like other girls. Tells me so, but she will help me. Grace and Carol will help too”. She believes that because she is ‘different’ she needs to be treated differently, in a way that includes mental torture. Because she does not know better, she thinks that they are helping her, that this is normal.
As Elaine becomes uncomfortable she does what any normal child would do- try to avoid the problem “I have to help my Mother.” But even then she knows that she is being scrutinised and watched. Carol watches her classes for mistakes, whiles Grace reports on Sunday school. There is nothing that she can do to please them, she is said to be a “goody-goody” when she gets full marks on her quiz, and “stupid” when she gets half marks. This mental torture makes her feel unsure of what she really wants, or what she should be like, leading to insecurity and low self-esteem. As the bullying escalates, so does Cordelia’s harsh treatment of Elaine “You don’t know what what means?” using mocking tones. Elaine’s schoolwork is affected by her fear of Cordelia. While her “handwriting is deteriorating” she comments that ‘knowing she’s there, but not knowing where is the worst thing. She could be anywhere.” This fear of being watched is mirrored later in life when she is very self-conscious of her appearance, as well as the incident with the doll.
The fear turns into a kind of phobia and she cannot even look at her doll, a Christmas present, because “I don’t want it watching me”. On the other hand she begins to identify with other victims, Mr. Banerji and Rudolph. “He’s afraid f us.” She can recognise the fear in others and this in turn leads her to form an imaginary relationship with him as she tries to encourage him. This is, for me, very convincing. Once something bad has happened to you, you search out other people who have had the same bad experiences and you feel a if you can understand them. In this case, Elaine can sympathise with Mr. Banerji’s being intimidation by the “newness” of Canada. But even through the ways in which she tries to deal with the problem (denial, forming other relationships, not dwelling on the matter) she is still afraid of what will happen next. She enjoys wheeling Brian around but stops because she is afraid that Cordelia will hurt him, because she is with him, or as an innocent bystander. “I knowin some obscure way that Brian is not safe with me.” She tries to deal with the situation, at last resorting to a typical human-character trait- trying to buy someone’s friendship with “liquorice whips and jelly beans” and “In the moment just before giving I am loved.”
When all her attempts to avoid or waylay the bullies fail she ‘becomes’ or ‘makes herself’ sick to avoid them. This seemed highly unrealistic to me at first- that someone could physically make themselves sick to avoid someone. After thinking about it I realised that mentally it would make sense, but I could not imagine anyone doing it physically. While she is away from the group she starts to have the first independent thoughts and ideas, followed by actions. She makes her own scrapbook and “If I don’t like their faces, I cut off their heads and glue other ones on”. This seems perfectly normal- away from the influence of the bullies she branches out and becomes more and more her own person. Atwood interjects a deep, psychological thought that does not suit a ten year-olds way of thinking whatsoever, “I see there will be no end to perfection or to seeing things the wrong way”, but which does explain that Elaine is starting to cope with the situation.
The marble season and the story of the blue cat’s eye marble boost her confidence even more ‘She doesn’t know what power this cat’s eye has, to protect me.” This rather romantic, childish, notion of a good-luck talisman to protect against evil in very convincing; Elaine needs some aid to be stronger and with this ‘secret weapon’ she has the drive and motivation to slowly become more individual. Being separated from the group on summer holiday also helps. “I’ve begun to feel not gladness, but relief.” Her feelings are slowly drifting onto other subjects, that at times are rather morbid (dead bird paragraph, page 144) “No matter what I do to it, it won’t feel a thing. No on can get at it.” Although Elaine does not directly contemplate suicide, she does remark to herself that this bird is no longer capable of feeling pain and suffering. The situation haunts her and dominates her thoughts subconsciously and quite convincingly, as I believe it would in such a situation. The dreams, for example, are not about Cordelia at all, showing how she tries to block the thoughts from her mind at night but during the day they resurface.
Elaine’s feelings of being a helpless victim are very believable to me. “She’s backing me towards an edgeand I’ll be over and falling.” And “She’s harsher, more relentless”- both describe the intensity of bullying that escalates now that Elaine has returned. At one point Elaine even thinks about committing suicide, ‘I think about becoming invisible, I think about eating deadly nightshade berries”. She feels trapped, as she can’t talk to anyone- her parents who don’t understand her, or her brother “I’m ashamed. I’m afraid he’ll laugh at me, he’ll despise me for being a sissy” she feels alone and can’t really turn to anyone for help. Her Mother at one point does try to talk about the situation telling Elaine “you have to learn to stand up for yourself”, “don’t be so spineless, you have to have more backbone” yet these encouragements come too late. Elaine, credibly, rejects her Mothers’ words, choosing not to take their advice because she doesn’t think they will help. She thinks that the ideas will not work, and almost makes excuses for her mothers’ behaviour “My Mother is not like other Mothers.”
The arrival of the Princess interests Elaine a lot, as it would have interested a lot of young girls at the time. She shows her independence by avoiding Cordelia, Grace and Carol on the road, and by “having my/her own Union Jack”. This little detail would probably have been very important to Elaine- an object just like the others had to show that she was as good as them, and she had her own; an attempt at a subtle boast perhaps. The whole idea of throwing herself in front of the car is, to me, totally unbelievable and would not be something that an average ten year-old, even a bullied ten year-old, would be thinking of in a situation such as this. We do learn from this passage that she longs for the family security, the longing probably bought on by the lack of security at school.
The foreign picture idea is to me plausible and also well thought out. “I like these foreign picture” in reality she likes the idea that somewhere in the world there are happy people under the ‘blue skies’. No one has tried to help her, although many people know about the situation, (her mother, Mrs. Smeath, Ms. Stuart), and the situation that she thought was her well-guarded secret is actually known by quite a few people. The sense of betrayal at the fact that still no one helps is believable to me, and is something that I can identify with. “Her touch glows briefly, like a blown-out match”. After having Elaine’s anger and guilt revealed, she suddenly reminds readers that she is only just a child by having a very naive point of view on her mothers’ miscarriage.
The ‘fainting-at-will’ seems highly unlikely to me. I can understand why it would make sense- for Elaine to escape the situation she was in when she was uncomfortable- but at the same time I cannot believe that that ten year-old can make herself faint at will. Nevertheless the action does produce results “Cordelia is subdued” the other girls treat her nicely and seem concerned.
We are prepared for Cordelia’s behaviour from the start at the meeting between the two girls when Elaine, insecure about how to act with other girls, let herself be lead by the nose by Cordelia who needed to feel dominant because of her family background. We can see why one needs to dominate, and the other becomes the victim. The dual perspective between adult and childhood reminds us of the fact that this all happened some 40 years ago: it is really likely that one would remember so much? On the other hand, the dual perspective also lets us see how events in the past have influenced Elaine as a person now, in the present. Elaine’s depression is portrayed quite believably in the way that she goes through certain stages. She seems automatic at times, completing actions only because thy must be done but without the enthusiasm to do them properly or enjoy them. Yet certain things breach her wall of silence- the morbid thoughts, fleeting ideas of suicide, the disturbing dreams she has of another happier life, and the reactions of the girls.