What does the novel Alias Grace reveal about early Canadian society?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the fascinating elements about this novel is the way that Atwood reveals a picture of Canada based at the time of the novel. The questioning of Grace Marks allows her to reveal a story common to many immigrants who voyaged over the sea from Europe in hope of brighter prospects in Canada. In Chapter 15, after a terrible voyage where Grace lost her mother, Grace narrates her first impressions of Canada when she arrives there:

The people appeared to be very mixed as to the kinds of them, with many Scots and some Irish, and of course the English, and many Americans, and a few French; and Red Indians, although they had no feathers; and some Germans; with skins of all hues, which was very new to me; and you never could tell what sort of speech you were going to hear. There were many taverns, and much drunkenness around the harbour, because of the sailors, and altogether it was just like the Tower of Babel.

Note what this quote reveals about early Canadian society: the overwhelming impression is one of different languages and cultures all thrown together in one setting. Grace's reference to the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel, where God confused the tongues of man, gives a real impression of the collision of cultures and the kind of chaos and confusion that captured so much of early Canadian life. Atwood therefore points very strongly towards the hybrid nature of Canadian society and the way in which new immigrants, such as Grace's family, came with such high hopes but actually found it very hard to begin with to establish themselves.

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