Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #42 The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
I was hesitant to pick up another Margaret Atwood book after reading The Handmaid’s Tale. I was told it was a dystopia, not a horror story. Every time a new sound bite makes the rounds on the internet, be it about my rights or birth control or what have you, I started to wonder if I could build a feminist shelter and survive in there while the rest of the world turns into Gilead.
Luckily, The Blind Assassin is not a scary view into the future, although Atwood still uses feminist themes in the book. The Blind Assassin mostly takes place between WWI and WII in Canada. Iris and Laura Chase are the daughters of a wealthy button manufacturer. After their mother died, Iris and Laura were mostly left to their own devices, with only the housekeeper keeping them in check. Laura is an odd child; she is very literal and seems very detached from reality. As the girls grow up, the Depression sets in and the button factory takes a hit. The owner of a rival company makes a deal with the Chase patriarch – Iris in exchange for saving the company. Around this time, Laura, a teenager now, falls for a college age anarchist, Alex. The button factory burns to a crisp and blame falls on Alex. Iris and Laura hide him out in the attic until he can get out of town.
A few days after WWII ends, Laura kills herself. She is remembered for her book, published posthumously, called The Blind Assassin. The Blind Assassin is a story-within-a-story, which makes the actual book called The Blind Assassin a story-within-a-story-within-a-story. The fictional Blind Assassin is the story of a high society woman carrying on an affair with a man on the run from the law. The man writes pulp science fiction for cash and begins to tell her a story of a town on another planet.
The feminist themes are subtler in The Blind Assassin compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, but they are still present. The biggest theme is the idea of freedom. Iris believes herself to be free, even though her new husband and sister-in-law control almost all aspects of her life. She believes herself to be free because they will never be ever to control her mind. This illusion of freedom shatters when Iris attempts to exert her believed freedom. This passive “freedom” gives Iris a sense of autonomy, but it really works to keep her in control of her husband and sister-in-law.