76 pages 2 hours read

Margaret Atwood

Alias Grace

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1996

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Symbols & 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 experience becomes a piece of cloth sewn into the pattern.