The protagonist and narrator of Cat’s Eye, Elaine is a successful painter whose inability to move on from her past stunts her emotional growth and maturity. Although Elaine seems to be an adult, her childhood self and the specter of her childhood bullies lie just beneath the surface. As Elaine walks through Toronto in the novel’s present, she believes she sees Cordelia everywhere, judging the adult woman Elaine has become. When Cordelia doesn’t appear at the retrospective show, Elaine realizes that she had hoped to use this moment to prove something to her childhood frenemy. Cordelia seems to have moved on from their old, vicious games, forcing Elaine to move on herself. When Elaine relives her trauma at the ravine in Chapter 74, she imagines herself in the role of the Virgin Mary, a compassionate adult, instead of the lost little girl she had been, finding strength in her age and emotional distance from her past. She can finally move forward.
As an artist, Elaine copes with her childhood trauma by controlling the visuals around her. Starting in high school, she chooses her outfits extremely carefully, even sewing her own clothes, in order to have as much agency over her image as possible. She bristles at other women’s attempts to label her, lashing out at Andrea’s attempts to categorize her work. However, this defensiveness doesn’t apply to the men in her life because she doesn’t view them as real threats. For example, in remembering Mr. Hrbik, Elaine acknowledges that he didn’t really see women as human, but this doesn’t bother her because she never saw Mr. Hrbik as real himself. Beyond her desire to control her own image, Elaine also enacts control through her art, which allows her to represent how other people look. She gets revenge on Mrs. Smeath and the suburbs through her unflattering portraits. Thus, Elaine uses this power to create images of others to give herself a sense of agency.