Which main literary elements in Alias Grace help illustrate the unfair treatment of women?

Literary elements such as first-person narrative and historical background in Alias Grace illustrate the unfair treatment of women within this time period. Readers are able to see the reasons behind Grace's actions and possibly sympathize with her struggles as a woman without autonomy.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The primary literary technique that Margaret Atwood employs in Alias Grace is the use of a first-person narrator. By having the protagonist, Grace Marks, tell her own story, Atwood allows the reader to see the events from her point of view. While a reader might not be inclined to sympathize with a murderer, the insider perspective provides a number of details that show Grace’s likely reasons for killing her employer and his housekeeper, who was also his mistress.

Rather than a single narrative, however, Atwood includes multiple versions of Grace’s story through her account to Dr. Jordan, her letters to him, and through her court testimony. The reader’s doubts are most strongly supported by the those of the jurors, who ultimately find her guilty of murder.

Although Atwood is clearly writing a novel, she emphasizes the historical bases for the story by including an afterword about the distinction between fact and fiction, as well as a variety of different types of documents. Instead of relying exclusively on the insider’s views, Atwood provides a more ample context that shows diverse aspects of nineteenth-century Irish, Canadian, and U.S. society.

The class base of distinction combine with the gendered elements, as indicated by Grace’s biography before joining the Kinnear household. Grace escapes abuse at home in Ireland by moving to America, but during the ocean voyage her mother dies and the child must provide for her siblings. The lack of reproductive rights is shown through Grace’s new friend, Mary, who dies following an illegal abortion. Grace’s vulnerability as a servant is emphasized both through Kinnear’s behavior and her manipulation by Montgomery.

The media accounts and prison records that Atwood offers—whether factual or of her own invention—likewise support the gender discrimination, both in law and popular opinion, that were prevalent at the time. Newspaper stories in the Toronto Mirror sensationalize the crime, while the penitentiary’s Punishment Book and the warden’s wife’s clippings reveal conditions within the penal system.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team