Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In an afterword to Alias Grace, Atwood notes that “the combination of sex, violence and the deplorable insubordination of the lower classes” present in the murder case gave journalists at the time of the Kinnear/Montgomery murder a heyday. She comments that the varied responses to the case and to Grace “reflected contemporary ambiguity about the nature of women.” In the novel, Atwood gives readers all sides of that ambiguity. She starts her chapters with newspaper reports, letters, poems, the confessions of McDermott and Grace, and the recollections of Susanna Moodie, who recorded the story in her journal. Atwood lets readers know what others think of Grace with this “evidence” and through the events that make up the novel. Through the accounts of the murder, the trial, and the attempts to have Grace pardoned, the reader is shown how uncertain is the recording of history. What is true? Atwood says that the truth is that Mr. Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery were killed. Beyond that, no one knows. Atwood makes certain that Grace never clarifies her role in the murders.

However, the strongest voice in the novel is that of Grace herself, and it is her telling of the story that makes her a sympathetic and believable character. Yet Grace’s narrative does not solve the puzzle of “Who is Grace Marks?” Instead, she appears to readers in a new ambiguity. She is not the woman whom others expect her to be, nor is she some simplification of the...

(The entire section is 414 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Within a deceptively simple plot, Atwood manages to address an amazing array of themes. According to the New York University Medical School,...

(The entire section is 927 words.)