Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 782

The structure of Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin accomplishes two goals: It makes the story a suspenseful read, and it builds the question of what constitutes truth into the novel’s framework. By writing the story of her life for her granddaughter, Iris Chase Griffen disputes the versions of events that the novel’s other characters believe are true. While the flashbacks that Iris uses to create the main thread of the story are primarily in chronological order, she saves the most surprising details for the end. In structuring the story in this way, she leads readers to the same false conclusions the characters reached, and later in the novel reveals that these conclusions are incorrect. Only in the last chapters does she explain that Laura was pregnant with Richard’s baby and that she, not Laura, wrote the novel within the novel.

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Iris’s inclusion of newspaper clippings in her story creates the impression that she is conveying facts with them. Even in those clippings, however, the information turns out to be false or at least misleading. For example, the news story reporting Richard’s death says that the boat in which his body was found was tied to the jetty. Iris reveals later that the boat was in the boathouse and that Winifred lied to the press because the truth sounded worse than her story. Even when the information in the clippings is accurate, it does not tell enough of the story to be meaningful. For example, a news clipping near the novel’s beginning states that Laura’s death was ruled accidental. While details of the news story may be accurate, the reader cannot understand why Laura committed suicide without reading the entire novel.

Besides the news clippings, the novel contains the book also called The Blind Assassin. At the beginning of the novel, the reader learns that Iris sent the book to a publisher shortly after Laura’s death, leading to Laura becoming a revered and tragic literary figure. Only at the end of the novel does Iris reveal that she wrote the book itself. Describing her affair with Alex Thomas, it tells more about Iris’s feelings and activities during the same time period than does the novel that contains it.

Even the novel attributed to Laura has stories within it. When the lovers in that novel meet, the man tells the woman installments of a story. A version of the story is published.

The stories within stories in The Blind Assassin suggest that there is always another story beneath the surface of what seems like the truth. Furthermore, words are not always the best source of information. Iris learns what Richard did to Laura from seeing some pictures that Laura colorized and from some notations in Laura’s school notebooks that do not explicitly state their message.

Another major theme of the novel is the way in which social constraints limit and determine the actions that women can take. Iris is clear in her account that, as...

(The entire section contains 782 words.)

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