Alias Grace Themes

Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace

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Alias Grace Themes

Mysterious Memory

Atwood explores the mysteries of memory through the narration of both Grace and Simon. Both have issues with their memories: Grace claims to have no memory of the murders of Nancy Montgomery and Thomas Kinnear, and as Simon works with Grace, he loses his focus, sense of purpose, and his memory for the details of what Grace tells him. The longer he works with her, the more confused he gets.

Grace has many traumatic memories: the death of her mother on the Atlantic crossing, Mary Whitney’s death after a botched abortion, and the murders of Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery. Though she remembers her mother and Mary’s deaths, both deaths are followed by long periods of unconsciousness and memory loss. Grace’s inability to remember the murders speaks to the trauma she endured in the past and her current inability to cope with what is happening to her.

According to the psychological understanding of the times, which was beginning to grasp the workings of the mind that post-Freud, twentieth-century culture takes for granted, Grace is either shamming for attention or insane. There is no middle ground. Simon’s approach in trying to help her recover her actual memories without judgment is a modern one, though fitting for the cutting-edge of the time.

Furthermore, Simon’s interest in dreams as a window into the unconscious is a modern idea. The exploration of dreams for clues as to what memories may be hidden in the unconscious forms a thread that Atwood uses throughout the novel to reveal the workings of both Grace’s and Simon’s minds and memories.

Significantly, Simon receives a head injury during the Civil War that takes away his memory, along with his belief that he wants to work with lunatics or to build an asylum. After his experience with Grace, it’s as if he cannot bear to remember the blows dealt to both his career and his private reputation in Kingston.

Social Roles and Sexuality

Victorian society as presented in this novel retains a rigid code of behavior and constraining social rules that proscribe the interactions between all people, but particularly between men and women, and…

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