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?
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?
3. What might the name “Grace Marks” symbolize?
4. Grace talks about “collectors.” What does she mean by this term, and who are the collectors around her?
5. What does Grace’s reaction to Simon say about her ability to trust others?
1. 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 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. 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 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. 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.