Margaret Atwood was born on November 18, 1939 in Ottawa, Ontario, and since then she has lived in various places such as Boston, London, France, Italy, Germany, and Alabama. She currently resides in Toronto. Atwood has written numerous poems, novels, short stories, children’s books, magazine articles, and works of nonfiction. She has also written three television scripts, and she has edited anthologies. Some of her well-known novels include The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, and Alias Grace ("Atwood").
Alias Grace is a fictional work based on the true story of Grace Marks, a servant who was accused of murdering her employer and his mistress in Canada in 1843. Grace was a servant in the home of Thomas Kinnear, whose housekeeper and mistress was Nancy Montgomery. When Thomas and Nancy were found murdered, Grace and James McDermott, another servant, were arrested for the crime, and James was hanged. Grace was imprisoned for several years during which people who believed her to be innocent petitioned for her release, which finally occurred in 1872. Atwood’s novel is a blend of fact and fiction in which writers who wrote about Grace during her life are quoted.
The story revolves around repressed memories, a common theme in Atwood’s novels. Grace is the only living witness to the murders of Thomas and Nancy, but she claims that she does not remember exactly what happened. Whether she was involved in the murders or the helpless victim of James McDermott is a mystery. Most of the action in the novel occurs during Grace’s imprisonment. She tells her life story to Simon Jordan, a doctor who visits her with the goal of restoring her memory and learning what really happened.
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...possessed by the spirit of her friend Mary Whitney.
As in much of twentieth century literature, no definite answers are given, and the reader is left to draw her own conclusions. Atwood’s ambiguity is similar to that of James Joyce’s in "The Dead" and Franz Kafka’s in "The Metamorphosis." In these and other twentieth century works, there are more questions raised than answers given. There is no known solution to the real mystery of Grace Marks, and Atwood leaves the solution to her character’s mystery to the reader’s interpretation. Clues are scattered throughout the novel, and any answer is possible. One can accept the spiritual answer that arises during the hypnotism or choose a more realistic interpretation. It is up to the reader to decide.
Atwood, Margaret. The Margaret Atwood Information Web Site. 21 Apr. 1999.
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