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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood: Early Impressions


As promised, here is the first post for May's informal readalong. Alias Grace is just as good upon reread as it was several years ago. Margaret Atwood remains one of my favorite authors with her knack for capturing characters and setting with easy clarity. I'm not sure how far along everyone is, so, just to remind: no spoilers today! They are fair game at the end of the month, but not yet.

One thing that stands out upon rereading is Dr. Simon Jordan's character. I vaguely remember liking him last time around, but this time it's definitely less so. He seems to be sexist like the rest, as, admittedly, was the cultural norm during the time, though possibly to a lesser degree, or at least, he fancies himself to be more egalitarian and open-minded than many of his peers. Since I still have a good half of the novel to go, I'm trying to reserve full judgment on that one until the end. He resents his mother's meddling into his matrimonial prospects, and notes that "[h]is father was self-made, but his mother was constructed by others, and such edifices are notoriously fragile." But he respects her to some degree, and wishes to appease her in small ways, perhaps because he considers her both fragile and his responsibility, though, he certainly resents feeling responsible for anything or anyone.

Jordan also has a tendency to compare women to animals - has anyone else noticed this? Dora is "a greased pig," "loneliness in a woman is like hunger in a dog," Lydia is a "healthy young animal," and Grace is "a female animal; something fox-like and alert." This would suggest that he considers women lesser than fully human. No such comparisons were made of men, or, none that I've found so far.

Grace herself is presented as quietly strong and intelligent, constantly questioning the conventions of society inwardly, even if not outwardly. She described the hanging of James McDermott and the crowd it drew, noting "There were many women and ladies there; everyone wanted to stare, they wanted to breath death in like a fine perfume, and when I read of it I thought, If this is a lesson to me, what is it I am supposed to be learning?" This speaks to another main theme, "justice" wielded more to appease crowds and the sensationalism of a crime rather than punishments that fit the crime itself. Grace also knows she can come across as simple-minded, but often does this intentionally, not wanting to give away her thoughts, which, after all, are all she has left that they cannot take away.

Quilts and quilting are another big motif, but I feel this one might be best reserved for the wrap-up in a couple weeks. And, of course, justice as relating to guilt or innocence, punishments befitting crimes. The descriptions do renew my desire to learn to quilt - it just seems like such a commitment for a new hobby.

How has everyone else been enjoying the novel? What other themes and nuances have you noticed?


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