To what extent is Iris ignorant, and to what extent is she complicit in the abuse Laura suffers?
The horror and disgust Iris feels when she confirms that Richard has been abusing Laura support the idea that she has been truly ignorant of what was going on between them. Iris’s realization that Richard had been sexually abusing Laura is the one thing powerful enough to spur her to take action to change her own life. She had always been unhappy in her marriage, and she was sometimes tempted to leave Richard to try and build a life with Alex. However, Iris could never find the strength and confidence to break out on her own. It is only when she realizes what Richard has done to Laura that Iris can no longer stand to be around him. She also feels it is extremely urgent to protect her young daughter. Iris explicitly tells Winifred about her fears that Richard might eventually abuse the child. During the time that Richard was abusing Laura, Iris was also often absent and preoccupied because she was concealing her own affair. This makes it more likely that she never noticed what was going on.
However, there are also hints that Iris may have deliberately overlooked some clues about what was happening to Laura. Laura was always uncomfortable around Richard, and Iris initially shrugged off her sister’s fears. Iris was being physically abused by Richard herself, which suggested that he was capable of doing awful things, and Iris certainly knew this. Iris chose to believe Richard and Winifred’s explanation that Laura only imagined that she was pregnant, and later, Iris misunderstands Laura’s comment about the paternity of the pregnancy because Iris is obsessed with a jealous fear that Laura has also had an affair with Alex. When her own baby is born, Iris admits that she is somewhat relieved that Laura is not around because this makes it easier for her to conceal her secret. For all of these reasons, as well as the fact that staying in the marriage gave her access to the money and social status she desired, Iris may have found it simpler to not think too hard about what was happening between Richard and Laura.
Why is Iris not able to maintain a relationship with her daughter?
Iris’s relationship with Aimee is damaged due to Winifred’s desire for revenge. After Richard commits suicide, Winifred is furious and considers Iris the one to blame for his death. Winifred uses her wealth and social position to make a case to gain custody of Aimee. Once she has custody, Winifred poisons Aimee against her mother by telling her damaging stories about Iris. Over time, Aimee no longer loves or trusts her mother. In some ways, Iris succeeds at breaking free of the Griffen family, and even achieves some measure of justice for Laura because the threat of the truth being revealed drives Richard to his death. However, she achieves independence at the high cost of a relationship with her daughter. This is especially symbolic as, through the loss of Aimee, Atwood highlights the truth of a time period in which women could not have both independence and motherhood. If a woman did attempt to have both, society would reprimand her—in this case by stripping Iris of her motherhood.
External forces are not entirely to blame for Iris and Aimee’s estrangement. Iris herself also damages the relationship by withholding the truth from her daughter. After Aimee grows up and has a daughter of her own, she confronts Iris. Aimee has always suspected that there is a secret about her childhood, and she is correct. In the absence of knowing the true story of her identity, Aimee believes that she is the illegitimate child of Laura and Alex. Her explanation is actually half-correct, and Iris could easily have taken advantage of this opportunity to tell Aimee the truth. Aimee’s confusion about who she is fuels her addiction, and now that she is a mother herself, she risks passing this trauma on to another generation. However, Iris is so used to living inside her constructed lies that she cannot admit the truth. By refusing to tell Aimee who her father is, Iris strips herself of a final chance to change the course of their relationship.
What is the function of the Zycron narrative within the novel?
The Zycron narrative mirrors the themes of the wider novel and provides deeper insights into the relationship between the man and the woman. On the surface, there is virtually no connection between the fantastical elements of the world of Zycron and the realistic historical details of Iris’s life. However, Zycron, like Toronto, is a world where wealth, consumption, and class consciousness lead to cruel behavior. The idea of the elite class sacrificing young maidens resembles the way that Iris and other young women from her background are sacrificed, for example, by being forced into loveless and unhappy marriages to secure money for their families. The story of the maiden who is supposed to be sacrificed and the blind young man who comes to kill her but ends up falling in love reflects the relationship between the unnamed man and woman who are telling the story and the relationship between Iris and Alex. Even though the stakes are high, and there is a lot of danger, they pursue their relationship because of the desire they feel for one another. The end to their tale is ambiguous, as the man and the woman conceive of different endings for the maiden and the assassin. This ambiguity highlights the uncertain nature of love. Though the three couples all love one another, love is not enough to deliver them from society’s cruelties.
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