Alias Grace Symbols and Motifs

Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace

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Alias Grace Symbols and Motifs


Grace sews quilt blocks throughout her sessions with Simon, and she constantly refers to textile and quilt patterns within her narration. Further, each section of the novel begins with a quilt pattern name. Symbolically, the structure of the novel mirrors a quilt: both the characters within the novel and the reader must put together a whole out of separate pieces of cloth. This patchwork method of constructing a narrative, a novel, or the “truth” becomes the central unifying motif in the novel.

Additionally, Atwood has chosen symbolic quilt pattern names for each section of the novel, and indeed many of them mirror the violence or difficult experiences contained in each section: jagged edge, rocky road, broken dishes.

At the end of the novel, Grace is making a Tree of Paradise quilt using fabric symbolizing the most significant events in her life: a scrap from Nancy’s dress, Mary’s petticoat, and her own old prison nightgown. They are all together again. Grace has made peace and weaves these women into the patchwork quilt of her life as part of the whole.In this manner, a quilt is a metaphor for life; each experiencebecomes a piece of cloth sewn into the pattern.

The Color Red 

The red peonies that Grace hallucinates symbolize blood spatters, trauma, and death. Grace associates the red peonies specifically with the murders, but also with the bloody sheets she laundered after Mary’s death. However, red flowers, and the color red generally, appear frequently throughout the novel. Redalso symbolizes the heart, love, and passion.

Social Reform Movements and Spiritualism/Hypnotism 

The Governor’s wife, Reverend Verringer, and Mrs. Quennell exemplify the nineteenth-century impetus to reform society. Upper class women, with time, intellect, and energy available, frequently became involved in social improvement ventures, including worker’s rights and women’s rights. They also were drawn to other types of knowledge, such as psychological or spiritual knowledge, seemingly available through hypnotism or spiritualism. Though the Victorian time period is known for its social rigidity, these reform and transformation-oriented movements planted the seeds for later social reforms. Atwood includes these as a plot device, certainly, with Grace’s hypnotism, but they also add a…

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