Narrative techniques in Alias Grace and Affinity explored

Categories: Margaret Atwood

Both Alias Grace, a fictionalised account of a true story and Affinity, a modern novel, display contrasting and comparable features within the narrative structure. They are also both similarly set within the depths of a woman's prison providing an insight into a particular female prisoner. Margaret Atwood has been thorough in her research for Alias Grace and has brought to life a fascinating story. The narrative methods and structure play a vital role in how we perceive each character and whether or not we consider the narrator to be a stable, trustworthy storyteller, or whether, as a reader we are being manipulated and starved of the truth.

The central figure in Alias Grace is a young girl called Grace Marks. She is one of the most "celebrated" women of her generation, having been convicted of murder in 1843 at the tender age of sixteen. Dr Jordan, a young Doctor intrigued by insanity and memory loss takes up Grace's case in an attempt to help recover her memory.

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(compare dr jorden with margeret here). Inspired by a true story, Alias Grace arouses many uncertainties within the finished piece. Interspersed with Dr Jordan's own problems, Grace's story unfolds in her own words.

She is brought to life, provided with first person narration, speaking directly to the reader and bringing us closer to her inner thoughts. (compare with affinity) DEVELOP: Alias Grace is divided into chapters as well as sections. Each section may have several chapters within it and at the beginning of each section there is a series of short extracts, such as newspaper articles, quotes from other books and information from punishment books from a penitentiary (1843) that Grace is admitted to.

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Affinity also possesses similar characteristics that cause the reader to feel more involved and provides the text with a realistic sensation.

For example, a section of the text is entirely dedicated to displaying caption, expressing what may be a page in Selina's diary for 2nd September 1872. "Miss Dawes trance medium gives seances daily - Vincy's spiritual hotel"... "... And they say for an extra shilling they will make it very bold and give it a border of black. " (put a page a chapter reference here) It is as if she is planning out an advertisement for her seances, deciding the layout in her diary, trying different captions. This technique of intertextual references throughout both Affinity and Alias Grace is simple yet extremely effective.

It is another method of feeding the reader information and sustaining interest. We are also less likely to question such information, as it is so bold and untouched. This means it is not edited and appears to contrast greatly to the descriptive, fictional layout of the rest of the text, appearing to be more reliable and personal. (somehow less ambigious than the writing done for a wider audiances, as with the adverts) DEVELOP: The newspaper extracts in Alias Grace gives us an idea of what people were told about Grace's life and her state of mind.

The reader is introduced to various views of Grace and ways of telling her story. The reader is forced to think through the information carefully as much of the writing is very raw and are only slices of information that relate to parts of Grace's life. Affinity has a similar theme running throughout, as the style of type changes every time we shift from one narrative perspective to another. Selina is designated one particular font while Margeret has another in definition of the two narrators.

This allows for the same fractured narrative that is found in Alias Grace, although to less of a degree, as the extracts from books and newspapers are not woven into the text at all, appearing far more frequently than any of the extracts in Affinity. They are not commented on, they stand bold and raw on the pages, spaced out and startling, appearing untouched and make the reader feel they are actually reader a newspaper or some other printed source. This is very effective and at the end of each extract we are drawn back to reality when we see a short reference to say where the extract is from.

They are even illustrations of Grace and James McDermott. This style almost allows the reader to feel like a detective, piecing the information together like a puzzle. The novel is about that exactly - piecing together bits of Grace's memory to find out what actually happened when the various murders took place. Affinity begins with Selina narrating, saying "I was never so frightened as I am now" After a short description of her state, dated the 3rd August 1873 we are introduced to the novel by Margaret who also speaks directly to the reader.

We are made more aware of the shift in narration with a change of font. Although both Margaret and Selina speak directly to the reader, Margarets narration is more personal to the reader while Selina's is written in the formation of a diary, whereby she is keeping a record of events for herself. This meant that her narration was more indirect and disconnected to me as a reader. Margaret however is trying to figure out Selina's story and therefore she is at a similar level to the reader. Margaret is more aware of our curiosity and seems to lead the direction of the book. too focused on Alias Grace).

After the various references and extracts at the beginning of each section the narrative style changed dramatically. We are now being introduced to someone's mind, thoughts and their story or their past, rather than random extracts. This changes the narrative methods used and the writing becomes more personal and descriptive and overall the narration is more intricate and intense. These two different ways of narrating the story make a perfect balance when combined.

If the whole book were made up of extracts it would not be a novel, a it would be too raw and it would simply be a scrap of book of other people's work, it would not only be unfinished, but it would be completely untouched. On the other hand, if it were composed entirely of descriptive and intricate narration, it would lose the captivating and original style it has acquired by mixing the two methods. (your teacher sez Give 2 examples). Affinity on the other hand, seems to have a more predicable pattern. The only shifts that are made are when the narration is taken over by either Selina or Margaret.

The font changes and the time shifts are evident, but it seems to have a steadier flow, that changes with less activity and commotion, unlike the busy pages of Alias Grace that buzz with images and extracts. (rephrase maybe but I have already done that by separating one long sentence into three shorter ones). Atwood constantly makes references to the past and jumps from one pervious event to the next in no particular order. For example, the reader may be introduced to different phases of Grace's life such as her time spent on a boat travelling to Canada or her recollections of Nancy lying dead on the floor.

These are in no chronological order and because of this, the narrative is cleverly broken down to accommodate this fractures 'story telling' process. The introductory lines of Margaret Atwood's book read as follows. "I am sitting on the purple velvet settee in the governor's parlour, the governor's wife's parlour, it has always been the governor's wife's parlous although it is not always the same wife, as they change them around according to the politics. I have my hands folded in my lap the proper way although I have no gloves.

The gloves I would wish to have would be smooth and white, and would fit without a wrinkle. " (put a chapter and page reference - might want to cut this quote down if ur over the word limit) This does not give away any clue to who or where Grace is. It states 'The purple velvet settee' as if the reader is already aware of where she is and where the purple settee and the parlour are. This is a familiar style of narrative opening for many novels but they then tend to swiftly explain themselves unlike in Alias Grace. There are however some clever narrative methods used to compensate for this random introduction.

For example, at the very beginning of the book there is a ballad included which reads: 'Grace Marks she was a serving maid, Her age was sixteen years, McDermott was the stable hand, They worked at Thomas Kinnear's. " The ballad tells the entire story from an onlooker's view at the time of the murders in 1843. The last lines read; 'And she will be as white as snow, and into heaven she will pass, And she will dwell in Paradise, In Paradise at last. " This is a reference to Grace Marks and how she may enter paradise if she repents.

The ballad provides the reader with a good introduction to the story, meaning that when Atwood decides to start her own narrative, she can be quite random and vague giving her the opportunity to be spontaneous. She can write with a peculiar, almost surreal tone because the reader is already aware of the basic outline of the story and can be 'plunged in at the deep end' as far as descriptive and intricate narration is concerned. The reader will not be disconcerted with the first few lines of Atwood's seemingly random introduction.

Unlike in Affinity, Atwood begins by providing a detailed introduction to the life of Grace Marks. The ballad tells the tale of Grace Mark in its entirety but does not destroy any element of the story, as it is not based on a miraculous ending where all truths a revealed. Atwood is perfectly safe in giving us a brief synopsis to introduce the book because the narrative style and the telling of the story is by far the most important and mesmerising element of the whole book - (yes woohoo flag this up a bit motherfucker).

The fact that Atwood does not seem to hold anything back from us is her own earnest approach to the unravelling of the mystery and in my opinion adds to the atmosphere of terrible 'doubt' and 'unknowing'. It makes me feel as though nobody really knows the truth in its entirety. Atwood lays out all her 'findings' openly before us, leaving the narrative scattered and waiting to be pieced together. In Affinity no secrets are revealed too soon and as readers we are not given a brief synopsis of the book before we begin the main part of the novel.

I think this had got a lot to do with the fact that Affinity is completely fictional and Alias Grace already had an inevitable set of events in store, due to the fact that it is based on a true story. I feel it is harmless to give a synopsis of the text as an introduction as perhaps it is how Margaret Atwood tells the story that is more important rather than the story itself. (develop) Atwood tells the story using a variety of narrative techniques, not only does she include the intertextual references but she also uses different characters and their narration to manipulate the story and how it is told.

Rewrite the next bit clearly ACCORDING TO PISS HED TEACHER WOMEN She controls the narrative and allows the reader to explore the situation, the characters and the story line. She controls the release of information with narrative methods such as allowing the characters to talk independently, with first person narration; she also uses second and third person narration throughout the book, switching from one viewpoint to another. APPARANTLY the story is enigmatic and ambigious, rather like grace herself.

This uncertainty is an inherent part of the STYLE of telling, it is not about what happens but how the truth itself is ambivilant and has to be sustained. She deals with communication, not only between the characters themselves but she also maintains a steady, controlled communication between the characters and the reader. She sustains this through her clever narrative methods, including the reader and making them interested to know what is coming next. Her narrative is divided into many different sections, encapsulating the reader with questions.

She allows Grace and Simon to talk directly to the reader through first person narrative but balances this carefully with her own third person narrative, to set the scene and control the dialogue. In Affinity we find the same ideas emerging as Selina and Margaret's relationship develops. (develop affinity) (source? Interview? ) Margaret Atwood herself said, "You will always have biased points of view, and you'll always have the story behind the story that hasn't come out yet. And any form of journalism you're involved with is going to be up against a biased viewpoint and partial knowledge. She suggests that everything you write, think and consider as your own opinion will always come up against opposition. This theme is evident throughout both Alias Grace and Affinity.

The narrative methods used throughout these novels explore the idea and as we are getting comfortable with one character and their narration we are suddenly plunged into a completely different narrative and routine. For example as we are confronted with Selina's thoughts on 'common questions and their answers on spheres' an article on spiritualism, we suddenly find ourselves back in Margaret's shoes saying, "To millbank.

I arrived at the inner gate to find a little knot of warders... " The reader is drawn into a completely different situation, then back again. Slipping in and out of two peoples lives, allowing us to see their interaction and the context they are both set in. The same thing happens in Alias Grace, as we are introduced to Dr Jordan, Grace Marks is narrating in first person and after a brief encounter we are suddenly confronted with a drastic change of style and narrative method.

Without any pause we go on to read a collection of letters to Dr Jordan from his associate Dr Joseph. This use of letters within the text is very effective. As a reader you feel as though you are being included in a very personal and private situation, you are reading Dr Jodan's letters directly off the page, there is a change in font to distinguish the change further and a dramatic shift in the layout and structure of the page. The letter allows us to gain a further insight into Dr Jordan's life and his purpose in the story.

The letters explain Dr Jordan's interest in Grace Marks and sets the scene for what is going to become a long and intriguing relationship with Grace. Both Alias Grace and Affinity use physical change to the style of writing and the fonts used to define shifts in the narrative perspective. (she sez... No... god knows why) Atwood also says, "there's the very human need to shape a story and make it mean something. One person telling the story may have one spin on it and another person may have quite a different one. And its particularly evident when it's a matter of a crime.

When a crime has been committed, opinions get extreme. " She is talking directly about her book and the way she has chosen to present Grace Mark's story (I think she may have ment the no for tht but maybe not. ) Both books are based on crime and punishment. When someone is punished we all expect that they have committed a crime worthy of such punishment. Both these books explore the situation aroused when there is doubt surrounding someone's innocence. If we are not entirely sure if someone is guilty or not then issues of truth are brought up.

They both contain strong elements of this theme, the search for truth. Both Simon and Margaret are drawn in by Grace and Selina's stories, asking questions and with drawing information. In Affinity Margaret says, "She stood gravely and earnestly, answering my questions, point for point, with her own neat logic. " This reminded me of Grace and how she patiently answered all of Simon's questions even though she often regarded him as a child like figure, forever asking questions and being overly inquisitive.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Narrative techniques in Alias Grace and Affinity explored. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Narrative techniques in Alias Grace and Affinity explored essay
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