Alias Grace

Alias Grace


Margaret Atwood

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Themes and Colors
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Social Class and Propriety Theme Icon
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
Justice and Religion Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Alias Grace, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Storytelling and Power

Through Grace’s experiences as a prisoner, Atwood explores how societal forces manipulate and control women’s abilities to tell their own stories, often through preventing them from speaking. This implicitly points to the power of storytelling—if women were allowed to tell their own stories, then their experiences, ideas, and ambitions would define them, rather than the diminished personhood given to them by men. Grace’s experiences show not only that storytelling is a vital way to…

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Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women

A dominant question of Victorian times was whether women were, by nature, good or evil. Atwood takes up this question in the novel, arguing that this binary is not a sufficient way to understand women, just as it would be an insufficient way to understand men. Atwood takes this argument a step further by showing how society’s repression of female sexuality—and its willingness to allow, and even condone, sexual violence against women—cements this binary understanding…

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Social Class and Propriety

Part of Atwood’s critique of the rigid class structure of the Victorian era is her exploration of how deeply engrained notions of “proper” behavior were then and how central they were to people’s identity. While propriety is certainly influenced by gender, Atwood uses Grace’s narration to suggest that proper behavior was often even more determined by class. Atwood thus explores the way that class inexorably shapes her characters’ identities, while also providing examples of…

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Truth, Memory, and Madness

Dr. Jordan’s mission is to learn the truth about Grace’s role in the Kinnear and Montgomery murders by helping Grace to recover her memories of the day the murders took place. By reading the novel, the reader becomes party to this truth-seeking project, attempting, along with Dr. Jordan, to determine which of the three accounts Grace has given of the murders is the true one. However, Atwood consistently challenges the idea that there…

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Gender, Ownership, and Power

Even before she was imprisoned, Grace owned very little. The most important object in her possession, her mother’s teapot, was sold off by her father to cover his debts. At Mrs. Alderman Parkinson’s home, Grace and Mary are only allowed one candle a week; Mary steals candle-ends from the dining room because one candle a week “was less light than [she] wanted to have.” This powerful moment shows that not allowing women to own…

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Justice and Religion

The dramatic tension at the heart of Alias Grace is whether or not Grace is guilty of killing Nancy, which matters since her guilt determines whether her pardon was just. Alias Grace explores the question of justice in both legal and religious terms, with Grace’s devout (though not exactly conventional) Christianity playing a key role in how she interprets her life. Through Grace, Atwood explores the nature of a higher power—however, just as she…

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