full title The Blind Assassin

author Margaret Atwood

type of work Novel

genre Historical fiction

language English

time and place written Canada, late 1990s

date of first publication 2000

publisher McClelland & Stewart

narrator  Iris Chase Griffen narrates most of the novel, but the sections that are excerpts from The Blind Assassin or from newspaper and magazine articles are narrated anonymously. Within the excerpts from The Blind Assassin, the story of the planet Zycron is narrated by the unnamed male character.

point of view  Iris primarily narrates the novel in the first-person point of view. Her first-person narration alternates with excerpts from newspaper and magazine articles and the text of a novel called The Blind Assassin. In the sections Iris narrates, readers only have access to what Iris can see and hear. In the sections featuring excerpts from The Blind Assassin, the narrator is omniscient and able to provide information about the thoughts and feelings of both the man and the woman.

tone Reflective, melancholy, wistful

tense The Blind Assassin has a frame narrative structure in which multiple stories are nested within one another. In the 1990s, Iris lives as an elderly woman writing down her memories of her life. This section is narrated in the present tense. The second layer of the story features the events that took place when Iris was a girl and a young woman and is told in the past tense. The third layer of the story features events surrounding and excerpts from the novel within a novel, The Blind Assassin. These are the events that tell of the secret affair between an unnamed man and an unnamed woman, and they are narrated in the present tense. The fourth layer is the story of the planet Zycron, which the man tells to the woman during their affair, and it is told in the present tense.

setting (time) Main events between 1917 and 1999

setting (place) Port Ticonderoga and Toronto, Ontario, Canada

protagonist Iris Chase Griffen

major conflict Iris struggles between adhering to the social conventions expected of an upper-class woman and her desire to make her own choices. A secondary but important conflict involves Iris struggling between maintaining appearances that are false and actually revealing the true versions of events.

rising action Iris grows up with expectations that she will marry a wealthy man, and she enters into a loveless marriage with Richard, only to rebel by having a secret affair with a radical working-class man.

climax Iris learns that Richard sexually abused Laura and Iris flees the marriage, showing that she will no longer be docile and keep up social appearances.

falling action  Iris establishes an independent life for herself and eventually tells her story, first indirectly, in the story of The Blind Assassin, and then explicitly, in the manuscript she leaves for Sabrina.

themes The Disempowerment of Women; Wealth & Corruption; Appearance vs. Reality

motifs Storytelling; Picnics; Photographs

symbols  Bread; the Water Nixie ; Avilion

foreshadowing Mr. Erskine molests Laura, foreshadowing Richard’s abuse of Laura; the deaths of two Chase sons in World War I foreshadows Alex’s death in World War II; the unhappy marriage of Iris’s parents foreshadows her own unhappy marriage to Richard.