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The Blind Assassin, a fiction novel by Margaret Atwood has won the Man Booker prize in 2000. The novel relates the events that happened in the 1930’s and refers to the personal angst of the narrator. This paper provides a rhetorical analysis of the novel.
In the novel, the main narrator is a woman named Iris Chase Griffin who is now 83 and she narrates her story through a series of flashbacks. Iris is attempting to create a journal that she wants Sabrina, her granddaughter to read. Sabrina is now a young women and Margaret last saw her when Sabrina was a young child. There was a rift in the family and Iris hope to bring all the facts to light so that Sabrina is able to find out what really happened. The mystery is brought out only in the end. The Rhetoric of the mystery is revealed subtly and in bits through newspaper clippings and the story is partly revealed through the newspaper clippings. There is a fine interplay of words and finer nuances and the reader has to pay attention or the mystery and the clue are lost. Iris had a sister called Laura who killed herself after the Second World War and it is through the newspaper clippings that we come to know of the tale of the two sisters, their relationships, the growing up years and the unhappy marriage of Iris to Richard Griffen who also happened to be a business rival of her father. Let us examine the event of the death of Laura. Iris is actually shattered by the event and the incident has left deep scars in her psyche.
The newspaper announcement was bland and antiseptic. It revealed neither grief the tragedy nor the grief that Iris felt. Margaret has narrated the event through the newspaper clipping as “A coroner’s inquest has returned a verdict of accidental death in last week’s St. Claire Ave. fatality. Miss Laura Chase, 25, was traveling west on the afternoon of May 18 when her car swerved through the barriers protecting a repair site on the bridge and crashed into the ravine below, catching fire. Miss Chase was killed instantly.” (Margaret, p. 59).
Iris is devastated at this event and has used rhetoric to express her grief as “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens (Margaret, p. 60).Notice the extreme use of rhetoric when Iris very evocatively suggests that it was Laura who drove off the bride, ignoring the danger signs that warned motorists of venturing closer. Iris further graphically describes the manner in which the car crashed through the concrete barriers and them then the car burst into flames, charring everything beyond recognition. Margaret can be described as a postmodern author who gives great emphasis in using rhetoric as a form of narration. By using the rhetoric of the newspaper clippings she has sought to portray events as authentic and the old woman Iris needs this assurance since she is trying to communicate with her granddaughter who is years apart. She has used such an inductive approach because many extreme forms of narration seem to have been devised essentially to transgress fundamental linguistic and rhetorical categories.
In many instances she has used rhetoric as a poignant feeling that asks questions. In one of her lines, Iris asks herself about the feelings that Laura underwent tat the moment that she was plunging off the bride. She asks “What had she been thinking of as the car sailed off the bridge, then hung suspended in the afternoon sunlight, glinting like a dragonfly for that one instant of held breath before the plummet? Of Alex, of Richard, of bad faith, of our father and his wreckage; of God, perhaps, and her fatal, triangular bargain”. (Margaret, p. 4).
To a certain extent, the character of Margaret in her old age very much resembles the character of Hagar Shipley in another of her books called ‘The Stone Angel’. Both the characters have reached the point of no return and are contemplating on the downward turn in their lives and fate has not been kind to them. But then again in The Blind Assassin, Iris seems to be mocking her fate and there are insinuations of her role in shaping her fate. Consider this life from the book “I wonder which is preferable, to walk around all your life swollen up with your own secrets until you burst from the pressure of them, or to have them sucked out of you, every paragraph, every sentence, every word of them, so at the end you’re depleted of all that was once as precious to you as hoarded gold, as close to you as your skin – everything that was of the deepest importance to you, everything that made you cringe and wish to conceal, everything that belonged to you alone – and must spend the rest of your days like an empty sack flapping in the wind, an empty sack branded with a bright fluorescent label so that everyone will know what sort of secrets used to be inside you? (Margaret, p. 448).
Margaret Atwood has used the power of rhetoric very effectively in relying incidents, events, thoughts and feelings of Iris Chase, in her novel, The Blind Assassin. She has played around with words to twist them and give them a new meaning that is very suggestive and evocative.
Margaret Atwood. (August 28, 2001). The Blind Assassin: A Novel. Publisher: Anchor. New York.