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Cat's Eye and Nihilism

Cat's Eye and Nihilism

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Published by You-Sheng Li
Notable Canadian writer Margaret Atwood conveys nihilist view in her most autobiographic novel Cat's Eye:she disdains all her characters and their lives with contempt but praises no one. It is a reflection of the nihilist trend in modern society, which is so widely spread and profoundly rooted in all walks of people that it has become a unique system with its own values.
Notable Canadian writer Margaret Atwood conveys nihilist view in her most autobiographic novel Cat's Eye:she disdains all her characters and their lives with contempt but praises no one. It is a reflection of the nihilist trend in modern society, which is so widely spread and profoundly rooted in all walks of people that it has become a unique system with its own values.

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Published by: You-Sheng Li on Oct 02, 2009
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05/30/2010

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MARGARET ATWOOD'S NOVEL CAT'S EYEAND THE NIHILIST TREND IN MODERN SOCIETYBy You-Sheng Li
( From the website
Taoist Philosophy for the 21
 st 
Century
Margaret Atwood is one of today's most acclaimed novelists in Canada. Her imagination and mordant wit are impressive to all readers, and her examination of a woman'sshifting role in the modern world remains a major achievement in English literature. In one of her novels
Cat's Eye
which is considered the most autobiographical one, Atwood conveys nihilism:she disdains all her characters and their lives with contempt but praises no one. It is a reflectionof the nihilist trend in modern society, which is so widely spread and profoundly rooted in allwalks of people that it has become a unique system with its own values.In this novel, the protagonist figure, painter Elaine Risley, at age 50, returns fromVancouver to Toronto, to attend a retrospective of her work being shown in the city. Elaine isobsessed with memories of her childhood and adolescence, which are interwoven with her currentlife and events.The novel is a first person narration and thus everything is in the protagonist's view. InElaine's world, everybody is either eccentric or vulgar. Nothing is worth admiration but numerousfigures serve as laughingstocks. Elaine herself has the habit of biting her fingers and nails, peeling the skin of her feet until she is barely able to walk. Elaine disdains all the charactersaround her especially those females. The author ridicules women at all ages from more traditionalmothers to teenagers. One noticeable scene is the one in which Elaine is victimized by her onlylife long girl friend Cordelia, who abandons her in the symbolic locale of the sexually threateningravine in a bitter cold winter evening.The beauty and unadulterated sincerity of a teenager’s first love affair can be regarded assacred. But in this novel it becomes an affair between teenage students and their married and
 
15-year-senior teacher. Only physical attraction remains on the girls’ side and only dirtylicentiousness on the teacher’s side. When the girls chat about their affairs, it is self-demeaninggossip:
...They egg her on: "Listen, I don't blame you! I think he's cute as a button!" "I could eat him up! But that would be robbing the cradle, eh?" In the washroom the two of them sit side by side in separate cubicles, talking over the noise of gushing pee, while I stand in front of a mirror,listening in..
.Although you can put any words on paper, most people still have the concept of taboo. Suchdescription of girls’ gossip "talking over the noise of gushing pee" would be considered as taboo by many authors.Elaine claims she has problems with girls but not with boys. But all the male charactersturn out to be just as bad: The art teacher Josef has affairs with his two girl students at the sametime, and ignors the fact that one of them is bleeding profusely because of a miscarriage. Elaine'sfirst husband Jon is hardly able to make a living, and furthermore, his careless attitude toward hiswife and daughter often exasperates the reader. Elaine's brother, a brilliant scientist, is so absurdand absent-minded that he is once arrested for chasing a butterfly into a military zone.Elaine comes from a nonreligious family that never goes to a church. Therefore she findsit hard to believe in God and does not know how to appreciate the value of Christianity. Elaine, asan artist, does not show the slightest love toward nature either. She never admires the beauty of nature or the countryside scenery. Elaine's own paintings impress the reader as grotesque rather than beautiful.In her life, Elaine grows up in a scientist’s family, ends up with a career as an artist butfinally marries a businessman in Vancouver. The novel demeans the values of friendship, family,religion, and so on. The last chapter, when Elaine is on a plane back to Vancouver, gives Elaine achance to search for the meaning of life. Oriental religions such as Buddhism and Taoism see theemptiness and worthlessness of human secular life, which, in a way, is similar to Elaine's nihilist
 
view of life. The book ends with the description of two childlike happy old women: They haveforgotten worldly care, shed off all responsibilities, obligations, hates, and grievances, and havereturned to nature, the happy innocence of childhood. To live as a child or even as an infant is oneof the goals of Taoist religion. Elaine finally realizes that such a happy innocence is what she has been lacking in her life. But sadly enough, Elaine decides that such a happy innocence issomething she will never be able to obtain but will miss dearly for the rest of her life. Thus, themeaning of Elaine Risley’s life is nothing but absolute emptiness.In the 1970s in Britain, punk movement started among certain young people who wereopposed to the values of money-based society and mark themselves by loud music. Those youthswere not aware of their own system of values. Therefore they did not form any parties or makeany speechs to express themselves. However, their attitude toward life deeply influenced everyone of us. Some scholars think they will eventually prevail in the world.Paralleling to the movement of punks, a group of jobless adults is called tramps. Anarticle writes,
They ( tramps ) have nothing to sell and require nothing from others. In seeking independence, they do not sacrifice their human dignity. His few material possessionsmake it possible for him to move from place to place with ease. By having to sleep in theopen, he gets far closer to the world of nature than most of us ever do.
In ancient times, life was very vulnerable and frail in a hostile environment. People built pyramids and made heroes to look up to, and they also worshiped gods for protection. In moderncommercialized society, life has become safe, stable, and more predicable. Religion provides aretreat, an escape from the money-oriented society. But to many people, religion has lost itsmysterious, awesome nature. A major part of our population rarely goes to church or to other religious facilities to worship gods. Modern nihilism has seized this gap, taking control of millions of our minds. One phenomenon is so called massive junk culture: rock music, soapopera, comic shows, and all bizarre horror mystery novels and so on. They have created a fantasy

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