“Brilliantly realized, intellectually provocative and maddeningly suspenseful, [Alias Grace] has already been hailed as a work that confirms Atwood as the outstanding novelist of our age.” – Macleans, Canada “Through characteristically elegant prose and a mix of narrative techniques, Atwood not only crafts an eerie, unsettling tale of murder and obsession, but also a stunning portrait of the lives of women in another time.” – Kirkus Reviews, USA
“Atwood’s humor has never been slyer, her command of complex material more adept, her eroticism franker, or her descriptive passages more lyrical. This is a stupendous performance and bound to win Atwood even greater acclaim.” – Booklist, USA
Margaret Atwood’s Education Victoria College, University of Toronto, B.A., 1961 Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass., A.M., 1962 Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 1962-63, 1965-67
Margaret Atwood’s Employment History Lecturer in English, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1964- 65 Instructor in English, Sir George Williams University, Montreal, 1967- 68; University of Alberta, 1969-70 Assistant Professor of English, York University, Toronto, 1971-72 Writer-In-Residence, University of Toronto, 1972-73; M.F.A. Honorary Chair, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1985 Berg Chair, New York University, 1986 Writer-In-Residence, Macquarie Univ., Australia, 1987 Writer-In-Residence, Trinity Univ., San Antonio, Texas, 1989
A Few Novels by Margaret Atwood The Edible Woman Lady Oracle Cat’s Eye The Handmaid’s Tale The Robber Bride Alias Grace The Blind Assassin
One-woman show: actor Caroline Lee plays Grace Marks in the Malthouse's return-season production of Alias Grace.
Sections 1-3, Chapters 1-5 1. How does Atwood’s decision to alternate between Grace’s memories, news accounts, and a historical poem in the book’s initial chapters impact the reader’s understanding of events in the text?
The varying accounts show the reader that history is developed through personal memories, shaped by the news media, and mythologized or made symbolic through literature. The poem’s rhyming lines give a sing-song, frantic quality to the tale.
2. Grace has a vision of red peonies and of an incident at the home of Mr. Kinnear. What is her role in this vision, and how does that role conflict with the poetic account of the same incident that follows?
Grace in chapter 1 has a vision of Nancy Montgomery suddenly struck and bleeding, and Grace intends to help and for none of what happens to happen; yet she is blocked from acting by the image of a man in a doorway, preventing her from getting out. The poem in chapter 2, however, indicates Grace helped McDermott (the man in the doorway) to murder both Nancy and Mr. Kinnear and had motives for doing so.
3. What might the name “Grace Marks” symbolize?
Grace has fallen from “grace” and suffered “marks” against her reputation. Yet at the same time, she is a person who, for all the “marks” on record against her, has the opportunity for redemption during her lifetime.
4. Grace talks about “collectors.” What does she mean by this term, and who are the collectors around her?
Grace refers to people who objectify or watch others for fun and sport as “collectors.” The doctors, wardens, journalists, jailers, and even her somewhat benevolent employer, the governor’s wife, all collect parts of her story for their own ends, using or distorting Grace’s story in the process. The governor’s wife collects news clippings of criminals, including Grace.
5. What does Grace’s reaction to Simon say about her ability to trust others?
Grace has been hurt by others when sharing information about herself. She has learned to hide her thoughts and even employs a “stupid face” in order to conceal her thoughts. She is also unaccustomed to people questioning her, but fears they’ll use her answers and opinions against her, possibly punishing her or sending her to the asylum
Section 4, Chapters 6-11 1.What do the letters between Simon and others reveal about nineteenth-century social prejudices concerning mental patients?
The letters reveal that in the Puritan era, men and women live under rigid social expectations. Simon, as a doctor, faces social obstacles about the type of medicine he is pursuing. His work challenges both traditional medicine and notions of spirituality currently in vogue. His mother is a voice of society, urging him to use other talents and not fool with lunatics.
2. How does Grace’s gender impact others’ perception of her?
Grace is the subject of undesired attention and sexual remarks from prison guards, and possibly the prison doctors and warden. Even Simon speculates on whether Reverend Verringer, the minister leading a committee petitioning her release, must be in love with Grace.
4. What does Simon hope to achieve by showing Grace fruits and vegetables? What results from bringing these items to Grace?
Simon hopes Grace will be reminded of the cellar at Mr. Kinnear’s, the scene of the crime drama where Grace’s memory has lapsed. Nancy Montgomery was found strangled to death in the cellar, but Grace hasn’t been able to recall her role in that, if any. Grace, however, thinks only of how to cook the vegetables when Simon presents them to her.
5. Simon observes that Grace hasn’t been able to voice her story, which is something Grace is also aware of. Who has told her story instead in these chapters?
Grace’s story has been recorded in poems and the journalist Susanna Moodie in her book Life in the Clearings, which is quoted at the beginning of several sections of the novel. Grace’s experiences have been interpreted by lawyers, like Kenneth MacKenzie who made her appear stupid, and by doctors, such as Dr. Bannerling, and by people who run the mental asylum.
Sections 5-6, Chapters 12-20 1. Why is Mary Whitney an important friend for Grace? What virtues does she possess?
Mary Whitney is democratic and believes people are created equal. She knows how to participate in society’s systems yet maintain her own opinion—she has the “self-possessed” nature Grace develops as she matures. She serves as a sister or mother figure to Grace, protecting her against exploitation by her father, teaching her the facts of life and sharing in pranks with a similar sense of humor.
2. Superstitions are a part of Grace’s world. Name three superstitions and explain how they advance the story.
Three examples (there are of course more): When Grace and Mary toss apple peels and Mary’s break, that predicts that Mary will never live to marry. Grace’s mother sees crows on the ship from Belfast, a sign of bad luck predicting her death during the crossing to North America. Jeremiah the peddler tells Grace she has sharp rocks ahead, which readers already know to be true.
3. In Grace’s world, pregnancy is a difficult state. Explain why pregnancy is disgraceful or difficult, first in Ireland and then in Canada.
To become pregnant while not married is a great shame. Grace learns her mother may have gotten pregnant before marriage, and once married, Grace’s mother’s many pregnancies create a large family that her parents can’t afford to feed. For young women, pregnancy and non- marital sex are scandalous acts.
4. How do the voices Grace hears and the amnesia Grace experiences following Mary Whitney’s death set the stage for the eventual discovery of why Grace can’t remember the murder at Mr. Kinnear’s?
Grace hears a voice that she believes is Mary’s soul asking to be “let in” and then “let out.” Grace believes she may not have let the soul out in time. This folk practice involved opening the window so the soul can exit a dead body. Right after that, Grace enters a sleep and wakes in a zombie-like state she can’t recall, asking where she, Grace, is, as if her body is inhabited by someone else.
5. Mrs. Alderman Parkinson plans to tell a lie to hide the source of Mary’s death. How has Grace seen others lie or enter a state of denial to protect their status?
McDermott lied to shift responsibility for the murder onto others. Grace’s father feigns interest in Mrs. Burt to receive benefits for the family. Grace lies about her age in order to secure employment and doesn’t tell the papers where she grew up to protect her Aunt Pauline. Mary conceals her relationship, ring, and pregnancy from Grace for a long time.