Reading guide for The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

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The Blind Assassin

by Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2000, 544 pages
    Aug 2001, 544 pages

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Discuss the intricate structure of this novel and the methods Atwood used to construct it.
  2. Atwood writes in three different forms in The Blind Assassin: memoir (Iris's telling of her story), fiction (Laura's novel), and science fiction (the story within that novel). Comment on the similarities and differences of these forms as shown in this novel.
  3. In the science fiction story, we're told that it is a saying among the child slave carpet weavers that "only the blind are free" (p. 22). Discuss this and its significance to the title of the novel.
  4. Iris notes, "Some people can't tell where it hurts. They can't calm down. They can't ever stop howling" (p. 2). Who howls loudest and longest in this novel and why?
  5. Water, rivers, ice, rock gardens, rain, snow, trees—the natural world plays an important role in this novel. Talk about these images and their meanings.
  6. Discuss the significance of keys, locks, and doors in the different parts of the novel.
  7. Discuss those moments where the story flashes forward with information that you don't realize will be key until later. How does this heighten the suspense? Discuss other moments of discovery, of epiphany. Are they the same for all readers?
  8. Talk about the theme of betrayal and guilt in this novel. Has everybody in this novel betrayed somebody?
  9. The story of the Depression, the Red scare, and the upsurge of union activity in Canada are all key parts of this novel. Discuss the merging of the personal and the political in the Chase family and in the novel by Laura Chase.
  10. About the readers of Laura's novel, Iris says: "They wanted to finger the real people in it...They wanted real bodies, to fit onto the bodies conjured up for them by words" (p. 40). Are readers inclined to try to match a work of fiction with an author's life? Discuss the danger in doing so, as evidenced in this novel.
  11. In this book, the role of mothering often falls on women who are not, technically, mothers. Discuss the different ways that Reenie and Winifred fill that role. Discuss missing mothers as a theme in the novel.
  12. We see Iris in this novel as a young girl, a young woman, an old woman. Talk about the different ways you feel toward her at different points in her life.
  13. Laura paints Iris's face blue in a photograph because, she says, Iris is "asleep" (p. 195). Do you agree? Does Iris wake up? How?
  14. Of their father, Laura tells Iris, "He didn't try hard enoughÉDon't you remember what he used to say? That we'd been left on his hands, as if we were some kind of a smear" (p. 383). Discuss Norval Chase's role in the book--his relationship with his brothers, his wife, his daughters, his button-factory workers.
  15. Is there anything redeeming about Richard? Who fared worst at his hand?
  16. Iris says that "The living bird is not its labeled bones" (p. 395). Talk about the writer's challenge to deliver truth. Does the truth reside in what's left out?
  17. Discuss the significance of color, or the absence of it, in the novel.

Reproduced with the permission of Random House. Page numbers, in most reading guides, refer to paperback editions.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Anchor Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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