Saturday, 1 September 2007

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: Narrative Style

The author uses multiple narratives or “a split narrative” to construct the reader’s view of Grace, her innocence or guilt, and keep it objective.

Grace’s Narrative
Her narrative is mainly chronological. She gains confidence and shows this through her creativity. She’s even going to have a baby.

Notice the nested narratives within Grace’s story. (Mary’s story, the immigration story, working as a maid at the Mrs Alderman Parkinson’s, etc.

There is a switch to the present from the past in some chapters. (See the opening to Chapter 27)This gives a non-linear feel to the early to mid part of the novel.

Dr. Simon Jordan:
He gives a mainly retrospective narrative although he is sometimes chronological. He loses confidence throughout the novel and eventually his narrative drops away as he develops amnesia. His mother and The Rev. Verringer support this view towards the end of the novel.

In several chapters there is an omniscient third person narrator.

Atwood also uses the eighteenth century epistlatory technique through her use of letters. They usually fill in blank pieces of narrative or move several narratives forward

Possible reason why Atwood adopted this style
There are a number of narratives to create objectivity and thought on the part of the reader in his or her construction of Grace and her guilt or innocence. The novels also fits within the modern tradition of historiographical literature. (More on this in another post.)

Atwood uses a variety of literary forms
The Ballad at the beginning of the novel in which the story of Kinnear and Nancy’s murder are related together with Grace’s and McDermott’s part in it.

She uses Susanna Moodie’s “Life in the Clearings” (Various extracts).
Note Moodie’s reported comments in Chapter 43 when she, in Grace’s own words, says that Grace was “shrieking” and “running about” the asylum.417
The veracity of some of her extracts are questioned, by the characters. See Verringer’s comments. 221 (“She is unclear about the location of Richmond Hill, she is inaccurate on the subject of names and dates”. 221-220

Simon and Verringer are referring to the melodramatic images of Grace painted by Moodie on page 220: “her two bloodshot and blazing eyes were following her around (Grace on Nancy). These are exaggerations.

McKenzie also thinks that Mrs Moodie was given to exaggerate:
“ ‘Mrs Moodie – for whom I have the greatest regard,’ says MacKenzie, ‘has a somewhat conventional imagination, and a tendency to exaggerate. She put fine speeches into the mouths of her subjects.’” 436-7

Lines from several poems of the period.

Letters (Whole chapters)

Press accounts

James McDermott to Kenneth McKenzie (their pair’s lawyer)
He claims that Grace “was entirely taken up with her master. Grace was very jealous of the difference between her and the housekeeper, whom she hated, and to whom she was often very insolent and saucy . . .”What is she better than us”?” 275 (Does this not ascribe motive?) 275

Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” appears to have been an influence. Verringer reads Hawthorne. Simon: Hawthorne had been accused of sensualism” . . . and “of a laxity of morals”> 223 (Relevance? Some reviewers mentioned the influence of Hawthorne’s text in their reviews. It might be worth following this textual reference up.)

The “Punishment Book” from Kingston Penetentiary

The warden’s reports (extracts)


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I teach Film, Media and English Lit.