Postmodernism in Margaret Atwoods "Alias Grace"

Term Paper, 2015

14 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Genette’s Narratology

3. Postmodern key features
3.1. Fragmentation
3.2. Subjectivity
3.3. Indeterminacy
3.4. Alienation

4. Postmodern key features in Alias Grace
4.1. Concerning the elements of Fragmentation
4.2. Concerning the elements of Subjectivity
4.3. Concerning the elements of Indeterminacy
4.4. Concerning the elements of Alienation

5. Conclusion

6. Works cited

1. Introduction

This term paper is concerned with postmodern key features reflected in Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace, published in 1996. The novel deals with the life of the real nineteen-century woman Grace Marks who is sentenced to life in prison for the murders of her former employer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. Piece by piece, Grace tells Simon Jordan, a young American doctor, the story of her life.

The aim of this term paper is to exemplify the central key features in Postmodernism and to analyse in how far Atwood manages to make use of them in her novel Alias Grace. Besides, I will concentrate on Atwood’s strategies to integrate the postmodern features into the novel and to illustrate them to the reader.

The first part of the term paper will be concerned with a general overview of Genette’s categories of discourse-oriented Narratology and the postmodern features Fragmentation, Subjectivity, Indeterminacy and Alienation. More precisely, I will define these features and will concentrate on the most important characteristics which can be linked to the novel. I will mention Genette’s Narrative Theory because it is especially important when dealing with Fragmentation.

The second part will be concerned with these postmodern features with reference to Alias Grace. Concerning Fragmentation, I am going to illustrate the interchanging narratives in the novel. When dealing with Subjectivity, I will analyse in how far different narratives of the story are subjective. By pointing out several passages in which open questions remain and the reader has to interpret on his own, I will discuss Indeterminacy. After doing so, I am going to point out in how far Fragmentation, Subjectivity and Indeterminacy lead to an Alienation of the reader.

At the end of the term paper, a conclusion will be drawn in which one can see in how far Atwood uses postmodern elements in her novel.

2. Genette’s Narratology

“Postmodern fiction stirs the waters fundamentally in two different ways. It disturbs our conventional expectations in what is told (the story’s “substance”) and in how it’s told (the telling’s form and language)” (Nash, Postmodern mind 15). Postmodern writing should be understood as diegetic which means that the counting events are in the world where they get “spoken”). Any narrative takes place in the words of its telling. The story or what can be called history solely originates from speech itself (cf. Nash, Postmodern mind 17 , 20).

In this context, it is important to include Genette’s Narratology. By considering to whom the narrator is talking, Genette differentiates between an “extradiegetic narrator” and an “intradiegetic narrator”. The first term refers to a narrator who tells his story to the narratee whereas the second term refers to a character within the story who is telling a story to another character (cf. Nünning 119).

When we ask ourselves if the narrator does appear as a character within the story, it can be distinguished between a “homodiegetic narrator” and a “heterodiegetic narrator”. If the narrator is located outside the diegesis, she or he is referred to as a “heterodiegetic narrator”. We are dealing with a “homodiegetic narrator”, when the narrator is part of the story for example as a character. If the narrator is not only one character but the main protagonist, he or she is known as an “autodiegetic narrator” (cf. Nünning 119).

In addition, narrating instances can be analysed according to how explicitly they appear in the narrative text. In how far do we have the feeling that there is a narrator? If the reader believes that the narrator takes the form of an anonymous voice, it is called a “covert narrator”. The narrator is described as an “overt narrator”, when the narrator appears as an individualised speaker and concrete person (cf. Nünning 119 f.).

3. Postmodern key features

3.1. Fragmentation

During the past century, the common narrative structure of the traditional story changed. We are no longer dealing with only one story. A second story congruent with the actual story has developed. This story has not only a different emphasis but also a different time-span (cf. Nash, Postmodern mind 5). Time can be expanded in all directions: it moves sideways, backwards or stops. The same applies to space which can be enlarged, reduced, displaced or evacuated (cf. Nash, Postmodern mind 15 f.)

“The advent of postmodernity signals a crisis in a narrative’s legitimizing function, its ability to compel consensus” (Sarup 132). The fragmentation of language games can be seen as a characteristic of Postmodernism. Metalanguage does not exist anymore so that it is impossible to guess what is going on in society as a whole. Because of the loss of the ability to locate itself historically, society has become incapable of dealing with time. In Postmodernism, the notion of time is peculiar (cf. Sarup 132). “Everything consists of fragments” (Sarup 150).

Fredric Jameson refers the peculiar notion of time to the term “schizophrenia” which is considered as a language disorder (cf. Sarup 132 ff.). “[S]chizophrenic experience is an experience of isolated, disconnected material signifiers which fail to link up into a coherent sequence” (Sarup 134). One characteristic of schizophrenia is the refusal to engage with the present or to think historically (cf. Sarup 145). This means not only that the schizophrenic has an intense experience of any given present of the world but also that it has no own identity. The schizophrenic has a kind of project which is able to commit oneself to a certain continuity over time. “The schizophrenic experiences a fragmentation of time, a series of perpetual presents” (Sarup 134).

To sum up, it is typical for Postmodernism that “the alienation of the subject is displaced by the fragmentation of the subject” (Wess 19). An important technique in this context is “pastiche” which indicates the unavailability of unique and personal style and the disappearance of the individual (cf. Sarup 133).


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Nathalie Fiore (Author), 2015, Postmodernism in Margaret Atwoods "Alias Grace", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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