Stephen Risley is the brother of the main character and focus, Elaine Risley, in the novel Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood. Stephen is a prodigy as a child and becomes a top physicist later is life. Much of the science enters Cat’s Eye through Elaine’s brother and he has an impressionable impact on her growth in the first years of her childhood.
Growing up as nomads in tents, Elaine and her family were largely secluded from the ‘real world’, but through her brother Stephen, his games and casual physicality Risley learns to socialise and communicate with others, and she instinctively learns how to understand boys. “I know the unspoken rules of boys.” Thus, Risley relates to the world she entered better than the world of girls to which she actually belongs. “I’m not used to girls.” Although Stephen has aided Elaine to be competent in socialising and playing, it puts her at a disadvantage when moving to Toronto and being separated from her brother at school “curious about the BOYS door” “How is going in through a door different if you’re a boy?” Elaine is forced to mix with the girls in her year, but finds it hard as growing up with her brother for eight years makes it challenging for her to adapt to girls and how understand how they diverge away from boys. “With girls I sense that I am always on the verge of some unforseen calamitous blunder.”
In moving to Toronto, Stephen’s easy acceptance by the other students, contrasts with the difficulties that Elaine has trying to ‘fit in’ with the girls her age. Stephen goes through “the fights that are required of any new boy.” And Elaine finds herself cut-off by her brother as he joins in a “noisy whirlpool of older boys.” Elaine, on the other hand, never truly settles in with a group of friends, she is always struggling to win their approval, becoming the person she is expected to be within the group.
Stephen, named after Stephen Hawking contributes largely to the science represented in Cat’s Eye. Elaine learned...
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