Paratexts Are Additional Elements English Literature Essay

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Paratexts are additional elements added to a given piece of literature. They can change how the reader receives a text or its interpretation. For proper estimation on the importance of the final chapter for the novel’s interpretation, a clear determination of the occurrence of the paratexts must be given. The uses of Paratexts in Margret Atwood’s book Alias Grace is important in bringing out more meaning to the novel and help the reader understand it easily. In the book Alias Grace, the main themes are sexuality, social power over an individual, truth and desire. Margaret needed to vividly bring out these concepts in the novel thus prompting her to use paratexts.

The paratexts that Margaret has mostly used are drawings, epigraphs and images. In addition Atwood uses post-modern description techniques to explore the unpredictability of personal identity and historic knowledge. The novel uses many textual sources entrenching genuine letters exchange by the characters. Alias Grace is a story of secrecy and suspense, its based on a murder case, which filled the newspapers with stories of love gone sour. At the period when the story was written, steam engine was mainly used and Grace, the main character was picked by James McDermott since she had stable hands.

Epigrams in the novel

An epigram is a short, interesting, unforgettable, and maybe surprising or satirical statement. In that epigrams are satirical in nature they create confusion and may give wrong impression to the reader. Epigrams are purposely used to cause the reader to think more about the statement being made. They are examples of humor and they all have an impression. Epigrams, extracted from the texts have been used to create tone, atmosphere and puzzle or to set up wanted tension in the reader on whether Grace is guilt or innocence.

Atwood uses epigrams mostly in describing grace and her friend Mary Whitney. In the story there is an essence of double voice. The double voice here is between Grace Marks and Mary Whitney, creating confusion and thus the question of existence comes up (the difference of one person from another). In the beginning of the novel the reader is made to understand that Mary Whitney was a creation of Grace’s imaginations. This is because grace is quoted in a similar manner to a Farmer’s Almanac. Confusion is created on the reality of Whitney because she was the exact opposite of Grace. The two personalities appear to be both similar and different.

This tension is explainable when we focus in the two girls meeting. Grace is portrayed to be young, confused and untried while Mary is knowing, worldly and kind. However as we continue with the story we see the roles changing. Mary goes against her rule to get pregnant while Grace begins to sound more like Mary. There is also use of epigrams when the writer is describing the crime committed by Grace. Brace is not aware whether she killed her employer or not. The use of epigrams by the writer creates some tension and suspense in the reader making him want to read more. Even though Grace could not remember the occurrences of the murder, the court finds her guilty plus his co-accused James McDermott.

At the time when the story was written any person convicted of murder was also sentenced to death. The reader expected an end to the story at this point but we see Grace being granted a pardon and her sentence is lowed to life imprisonment due to her young age. The facts that Margate was mentally ill and she was deceived she was not supposed undergo such bad treatment. While Grace was still in prison, the writer used a statement that would give a suggestion to the reader that there was hope for Grace; this is a proper use of epigrams by Atwood.

Use of images

With imagery there comes inspection scrutiny study and appraise. With an image the reader’s attention is grabbed and understanding is impelled. Pictures just as words provoke thoughts. The communicative nature of a picture or drawing is thus of paramount importance to literature. An image may enliven imagery in the mind of the reader i.e. it helps the readers to create an imagination of scenes as described in the literary work. This assists events to be grasped. Images haziness can be effective in exciting the reader’s interests to attend to difficulties of meaning and to be vigilant to important details. With imaginations aroused from images the reader is able to add his or her own interpretations.

Margate has positively used imagery in her work to bring about a visual interpretation. By looking at the drawings in the novel Grace Alias, it is easy to get the flow of the story as well as understanding it. The reader sympathizes with Grace as she was sentences to life imprisonment. This sympathy is much expressed due to the drawing of Grace. She looked young and tender not worth such punishment. The cover of the novel is a portrait drawing of a young female who we may consider to be Grace. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is a saying that advices people not to jump into conclusions without any proper reasons. Taking this saying literary, people always judge books by their covers.

It is of great importance that the cover of the book portrays its contents. In the novel Alias Grace the main themes are sexuality and male dominance. The victim of these issues is mostly the protagonist, Grace. The cover photograph of the novel plays a narrative role by giving the reader an impression of what the contents of the novel may be depending on his or her interpretation. The genre of the book is also clearly depicted by the cover photo giving the reader a sense of the story.

By looking at the image of Grace in the novel she looks sad and in a bad mood. While she was at the Governor's house, Grace is branded as having a romantic figure, by some of the women there. In addition they point that she does not smile or laugh, just as in the novel’s cover picture. The reader therefore is triggered to know why Grace is calamitous. Atwood clearly writes that Grace reminds herself that she has had no reason to smile in such a long time. She also thought that if she were to smile she would be incapable of stopping it, which would in return ruin her romantic images as ‘aromatic people should not laugh’.

Pictures when wrongly interpreted may bring a wrong narrative impact to the story. It would catch the reader’s attention that a murderer could be seen a romantic and attractive figure. The romance here could also bring about a question of whether the romantic person was in love or want to be in love. In the novel, Grace talks of how there have been many different quilts for the different occasions. Mary Whitney who was Grace's friend said that a girl was not to consider herself for marriage until such a time she had three such quilts that she made by herself. When Grace was at Mrs. Parkinson's house she narrates of all of the different quilts that were in the house. There were even also seasonal quits, such as the winter quilts which were more colored than the summer ones. The picture of quilts here is important in the narration of the story and gives the reader an insight of the coming events.

Use of newspaper articles

The main idea here is to gather all information available about, whether credible or not. These include testimonies, newspapers articles, letters, magazines etc. With a given theme and imagination in mind, Atwood was able to come up with the story line of the novel. This is a good art of work. The use of these information chances the narration of the novel into a flashback narration mode. This is important in relating the story to the readers. The writer uses this to take us back at the early age in the sixteenth century, where a servant girl Grace Marks was imprisoned for her part in the brutal murders of her employer and his mistress.

Flashbacks warn the reader of what’s coming. This brings the narration of the novel to become easy an understandable since the reader has in mind the upcoming events. More logic information about the novel is well understood with flashbacks. Since memories do not come out of nowhere, the question of what brought the past event to mind rings in our minds. By answering this question the narration of the novel is well understood. By looking at the current situation in which the character is and connecting it with the flashback the flow of the novel is perceived.

The book title ‘Alias Grace’

The word alias is an adjective meaning a false name used to hide one's identity, or it is an assumed name. The title was used to give the reader an impression that Grace gave a wrong impression of herself. She behaved in a manner that portrayed her as a good girl. However we are not able to jump into conclusion because it is told that she had a mental problem. The story of Grace, a "celebrated killer in Canada" of the 19th century, is repeated in a ludic manner, augmented with unforeseen meanings and robbed all her "actual" reality to be capitalized with a whole "fictive" reality. The title alias is well understood here. The title alias actually resembles the transformation of Grace from a mere name into a commonly known noun.

The fact that Grace identifies with Mary is also another example for the explanation of alias. Mary was a lady who was educated and was less expected to associate with Grace. She is possessed with Mary’s vengeful spirit as shown in the scene by the impostor Jeremiah Peddler. Later she avenges her but saves her actions by putting her actions in Mary’s hands as she occasionally had blackouts. For literature purposes, a less important character is created to become a strong character; the writer uses her skills to use small details from many voices with little action.

This title is important in terms of narration since a big question of whether Grace is guilty or not is raised. The narration is well understood by correctly getting the answer to this question. However the answer to this question is not available. Simon the doctor who understands mind mechanics interviews her but is not able to come up with the answer to this question. Not the lawyer, not the reverend who advocate for her pardon with occasional writings, not the hospice doctors or Grace herself has the answer to this question. But due to the nature of the title the reader can analyze the novel and come up with his or her conclusion.

The use of preface

A preface is an introduction to the novel and it is not a part of the novel. It is the author’s own voice. The preface gives additional information about the novel. It may contain explanation or contextual notes such as how the idea of writing the book came to the author. It may also contain acknowledgment of people, who assisted him or her in the writing of the book. The book tells of a true story that occurred in the sixteenth century. In the preface Margaret Atwood talks of collecting newspaper article as well as testimonies and letters to come up with this story.


Atwood uses a style unlike any other in the book ‘Alias Grace’. Throughout the novel, Atwood inputs excerpts from other literary works to assist illustrate the very complex Grace Marks. This however, is not common amongst modern writers. Another feature that makes Atwood's style unique is that Grace exhibits some change of perspective in her narration. The book is in constant change from a given perspective to another. Most of the book is both a narrative and a conversation. Margaret Atwood has put into good use the paratexts thus creating a perfective narration of her book.

The book is based on a narrator who might be termed as unreliable. This is because she has too little knowledge, she is psychologically unsound, and she is also manipulative and morally corrupt. Since the narrator is unreliable, he discloses untrustworthy narration and misrepresents or misevaluates characters and events. Unreliable narration is most common in jokes, satire, irony and parody. It is worth noting that unreliable narration can help emphasize limited knowledge, biased perspective or serious character flaws. The divergence between the narrator and the reader’s view causes the reader to classify the narrator as unreliable. Unreliability therefore can be used as a textual construction or as interpretive strategy. With such discrepancies and confusion the use of paratexts has helped a great deal in understanding the novel.

Work cited

Flora Buchinger Manipulative Narration and Historiographic Mortification in Margareta Atwood’s Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin 2009

The An American Historical Review ‘In search of Alias Grace’ oxford university press 2009

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Ingersoll, Earl G. - Margaret Atwood: Conversations, Princeton:Ontario Review, 1990

Lopičić, Vesna – Developing Identities (Essays on Canadian Literature), Niš, 2007

Nischik, M. Reingard (ed.) – Margaret Atwood; Works and Impact, Camden House, 2000

MacAlpine, Rachel - The Many Faces of Margaret Atwood, 2001,

Potter, George W. - To the Golden Door: The Story of the Irish in Ireland and America. New York: Greenwood Press, 1960

Hanţiu, Ecaterina - Quilting Identities in Margaret Atwood's "Alias Grace", in Pathways of the Mind Through Time and Space (Essays on British, American and Canadian Literature), Editura Universităţii din Oradea, 1999

Rogerson, Margaret. Reading the Patchworks in Alias Grace. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature: March 1998. Web. <<>>

Margaret Atwood: Works and Impact: Ed. Reingard M. Nischik. Camden House, New York: 2000. Print