The titular cat’s eye marble represents a painter’s gaze that allows Elaine to experience the world in a detached fashion. When Elaine imagines herself looking through her cat’s eye, her friends become shapes in a painting, meaning that the cat’s eye allows Elaine to create distance from her emotions. Although Elaine loses track of the marble, she internalizes this disaffected gaze. We see this in Life Drawing, which depicts Mr. Hrbik and Jon painting a female model with a blue marble for a head, symbolic of Elaine. However, because Elaine is the actual painter, the men are the true objects of the painter’s gaze. In Unified Field Theory, Elaine depicts the Virgin of Lost Things holding the marble above the ravine. Elaine’s rediscovery of the marble has allowed her to make sense of her past by turning her painterly gaze on this forgotten time. Elaine can finally see her art and her past with the distance and understanding of age.
Although Elaine fears most women, she admires and even prays to the Virgin Mary. To Elaine, Mary represents a powerful feminine counter to the painful and unnatural womanhood she finds in suburbia. Elaine initially turns to Mary for help as a private rebellion against Mrs. Smeath’s judgement. In the image of Mary that she first finds on a flier, Elaine finds herself drawn to the sadness in Mary’s gaze, so different from the enforced happiness she hears about. In addition, her classmates’ disgust over the images of Mary breastfeeding underscore how Mary’s femininity is opposed to the 1950s suburban distrust of natural bodily processes. Elaine defends this Virgin Mary imagery by explaining how it reconnects Jesus to the natural world, thwarting the watchful God of the artificial suburbs. When Elaine returns to the ravine, she imagines herself in the role of the Virgin Mary, a powerful and compassionate adult woman.
Deadly nightshade represents the toxic underbelly of seemingly peaceful suburban life. While developing its suburbs, the city of Toronto allowed poisonous nightshade to grow. In contrast, the dangerous-looking berries Elaine finds in the wild are actually delicious chokecherries that her mother makes into jam. This contradiction reflects the way Elaine thrives in the “dangerous” bush country but withers into depression in the suburbs. She depicts this feeling in her painting Deadly Nightshade, in which a beautiful but sinister bouquet of nightshade masks glaring, watchful eyes, representative of the surveillance Elaine experiences in Toronto. Elaine also associates nightshade with Cordelia in one of her dreams in Chapter 27. Elaine picks chokecherries only to realize they’re nightshade berries. This slippage between Cordelia and nightshade represents how Cordelia uses the language of suburban respectability as a dangerous tool to tear down her friend’s self-esteem.