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The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin Summary


Here you will find a The Blind Assassin summary (Margaret Atwood's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Blind Assassin Summary Overview

In the later years of her life, residing in the small town of Port Ticonderoga in Ontario, Iris Chase Griffen pens a memoir reflecting on her life and tracing her family history. Iris, in her eighties, is the last remaining member of her family, having outlived her sister Laura, her husband Richard, and her daughter Aimee. She does have a granddaughter, Sabrina, though their relationship is distant. Iris's narrative oscillates between her present-day experiences as an elderly woman and the recollections of her childhood and early life. Iris's memoir encompasses excerpts from a novel published posthumously under her late sister Laura's name, believed by many to be a result of Laura's tragic death in a car accident in 1945, presumed by many to be suicide. The novel recounts illicit encounters between a wealthy woman and an unnamed man, a fugitive of sorts, who regales his lover with tales of a distant planet named Zycron. The narratives suggest that Laura might have been involved in a secret affair with a man of lower social standing with radical political beliefs. Born into a prosperous family, Iris and Laura's lives become convoluted as they navigate through the Great Depression, unfulfilling marriages, and political unrest. Iris is coerced into marrying Richard Griffen - a cold, aloof tycoon - to save their family business. But their marriage is unhappy, dominated by Richard's sister, Winifred. A series of tragedies and cover-ups ensue, including Laura's pregnancy and subsequent institutionalization, leading to an abortion to avoid scandal. Iris is left to unravel these dark secrets, eventually revealing her own involvement with Laura's novel and her affair with the man believed to be Laura's lover. As Iris's life draws to an end, she discloses her full story, intending to enlighten Sabrina about their family history.

part 1

Iris, the storyteller, flashes back to the time she found out about her sister Laura's demise in 1945, shortly after WWII wrapped up. Laura perished in a car crash, suggesting she might have intentionally caused it. However, Iris publicly asserts it was simply an unfortunate accident. Following Laura's death, Iris stumbles upon a stack of diaries and recalls memories of Reenie, a woman who was like a mother to her when she was a girl. A news piece from May 1945 provides details about Laura Chase's death. The 25-year-old's sister, Iris, is now referred to as Mrs. Richard Griffen. The report presumes Laura's death was an accident, invoking a need for stronger safety measures.

part 2

The tale transitions into a narrative within a narrative, featuring segments of Laura Chase's posthumously published 1947 novel, The Blind Assassin. The selected excerpt narrates the story of a woman who secretly stashes a photograph of herself and an unknown man. The snapshot features a joyful picnic scene with a barely visible third hand. The woman's regular viewing of the photo implies she harbors deep feelings for the man, suggesting a clandestine affair. A lighthearted dialogue ensues between a man and a woman, with the man starting to weave a sci-fi tale. He sets his story on Zycron, a barren planetary entity inhabited by five tribes and a pile of stones believed to be the remains of an ancient city. The woman cuts the storytelling short, fearing her absence may be noticed. The novel references a news article delineating the demise of Richard Griffen, a man of wealth and power. It emerges that Richard was Iris's husband and father to their child, Aimee. The article also mentions Laura's post-death publication and introduces Richard's sister, Winifred Prior. It notes that Richard succumbed to a brain aneurysm on his sailboat. The subsequent encounter between the man and the woman happens on a park bench while she feigns shopping. The man continues his narrative, stating that Zycron was home to the future colonizers of Earth. He describes the lost city of Sakiel-Norn, a once prosperous and rigidly hierarchical society divided into the upper-class Snilfards and the lower-class Ygnirods.

part 3

In the present day, Iris, now an old woman, is preparing to go to a local school's graduation event. Walter, Myra's partner who assists Iris with her daily activities, drives her. Iris ponders on how Laura, her sister, has gained a mythical status due to her assumed suicide. Laura’s posthumously published book, notorious for its eroticism and the mystery surrounding her death, has led many to believe Laura had an affair. Iris hands out a prize at the graduation in honor of Laura. Iris's health is failing due to a heart condition. Following her doctor's advice, she begrudgingly starts taking regular walks and starts writing a memoir of her life. During these walks, she often visits the cemetery where Laura and other family members are buried, except for her husband Richard and daughter Aimee who are buried elsewhere. She often thinks back on her childhood with Reenie, a significant figure from her past. She had a troubled relationship with Winifred, who raised her granddaughter Sabrina after Aimee's death, causing a rift between Iris and Sabrina. As the summer continues, Iris keeps walking, reflecting on her small Ontario town, Port Ticonderoga. Once thriving thanks to a button factory founded by her grandfather Benjamin Chase, the town has seen better days. The factory got shut down, was abandoned for years, and has now been transformed into a courtyard and boutiques. Despite her family's former wealth and social standing, Iris now lives alone, depending on Myra's assistance. She shares more about her family's history and the town. Iris and Laura grew up in a grand mansion, Avilion, which later became a nursing home. Their grandparents, Benjamin and Adelia Montfort Chase, were affluent and influential. After Adelia’s death from cancer in 1913, relationships among the family members deteriorated. Their father Norval and his brothers all aspired for more than just managing factories in a small town. Iris shares how she learned about her family's history from Reenie, who worked for the Chase family for most of her life. In 1914, Norval married Liliana, Iris and Laura’s mother, who was not of the same wealth or social status. The start of World War I saw all three Chase brothers off to the war, leaving Liliana to manage the household and the factories. After the death of her two brothers-in-law, Iris's birth, and Benjamin's stroke, Liliana is thrust into motherhood and the business world. The war ends in 1918 and Norval comes back home, physically and mentally scarred. He turns to alcohol and infidelity, severely straining his marriage to Liliana. Amidst this tense atmosphere, Laura is born in November 1919.

part 4

In the novel, a hidden man and his lover rendezvous in a shabby cafe. He's a fugitive, and she pleads with him to escape. However, he's bound by invisible borders. Although passionately involved, their relationship is marred by the man's occasional unkindness, which the woman silently endures. An article details Norval Chase's decision to donate his factory's clothing to the destitute during the Great Depression. While the press lauds this charitable act, competitors like Richard Griffen criticize it. Despite Norval's philanthropy, the economic crisis is hampering factory performance. During a bout of bad weather, the man takes the woman to his dilapidated hideout, exchanging their usual outdoor meetings. In spite of his harsh words, they make love. Following their intimacy, he resumes his narrative. A newspaper piece highlights Richard Griffen's support of Prime Minister Bennett's actions. When Communist leader Tim Buck is imprisoned and subsequently freed amid public protests, Griffen endorses Bennett's unwavering opposition to communism. In the continuation of his tale, the man describes a horrifying ritual in Sakiel-Norn, where a sacrificial virgin is subjected to a ceremonial violation prior to her execution. During one such event, an unnamed maiden awaits the arrival of a courtier for the grim ritual. However, an assassin, a blinded former slave, plans to kill her, impersonate her and assassinate the king in a surprising twist. The courtier, ironically, is the one who arranged for the king's murder. As this unfolds, an enemy tribe is plotting to raze the city. A report talks of unrest in Port Ticonderoga due to a worker's strike at the Chase factories, which escalated to vandalism and violence. The intervention of military forces was necessary to restore order. External agitators are accused of provoking the local workers.

part 5

In her recollections, Iris revisits her and Laura's childhood, marked by their mother's passing and a general lack of supervision. Their father, Norval Chase, enlists a young sculptor, Callista Fitzsimmons, for a war memorial despite public controversy. Laura and Iris are intrigued by the eclectic Callista, while their caretaker Reenie is openly disapproving. After the memorial unveiling, Laura jumps into the river, convinced that her self-sacrifice would bring their mother back. Iris saves her. Iris and Laura are given the freedom to wander the town and have private lessons from a tutor they refer to as Miss Violence. Norval becomes more authoritarian as Iris begins puberty. The realities of adulthood frighten the girls. Norval changes their tutor to the stricter Mr. Erskine, who uses physical punishment. When Reenie and Iris discover Mr. Erskine has been violating Laura, Reenie accuses him of possessing pornography, forcing Norval to dismiss him. As Iris turns sixteen, she is on the edge of a new chapter in life, yet uncertain of how to proceed. Iris recalls a Labor Day picnic held by her father for his employees. Her father surprisingly invites Richard Griffen, a business adversary. At the picnic, Laura meets a young man named Alex Thomas. Laura impulsively invites Alex to dinner against everyone's judgment. Richard and his haughty sister, Winifred, scrutinize the old-fashioned Chase home. Alex reveals his leftist principles and his past as a war orphan from Eastern Europe. A photo of Alex and the Chase sisters appears in the local paper, stirring controversy. Laura gets a job helping Elwood Murray in his photo development room. When Elwood reveals he’s seen Laura with Alex, Reenie confronts Laura. However, Laura insists they are just friends. In 1934, worker unrest increases while the Chase factory's economic troubles escalate. Norval and Callista’s relationship ends following a disagreement. A strike gives rise to riots and a factory fire. Military forces question Laura regarding Alex's whereabouts, alleged as a political agitator. Laura confesses to Iris that she is harboring Alex. Iris relocates Alex to the attic, providing him with food and necessities. Alex thanks Laura for her help but insists he views her as a child. When he kisses Iris, she resolves to help him escape. Alex plans to flee to America, leaving in early January. In 1935, Iris and Laura's relationship becomes strained. Norval is busy securing funds to reopen the factory, and a potential business deal with Richard Griffen arises. He implies that Iris's marriage to Richard would ensure the family's financial stability. Despite her reservations, Iris consents to the marriage.

part 6

In "The Blind Assassin," the man and woman persist in their meetings. He authors lowbrow sci-fi books but feels constrained by the storylines he's expected to craft. His reliance on the woman for financial help and basic needs intensifies. He wistfully thinks back on simpler romantic entanglements from his past. Following an intimate encounter, the woman encourages the man to continue with the Zycron narrative. The assassin plans to sleep with the maiden he's destined to kill and then impersonate her. Due to a miscommunication regarding schedules, the courtier who was meant to bed her hasn't shown up, leading her to mistake the assassin for the courtier. Their shared confusion leads to them developing feelings for each other. The woman expresses surprise at the unexpected plot twist. A news piece announces that Laura Chase has been found following speculation that she had disappeared. The article chalks it up to a misunderstanding and confirms she has been safely with friends all along. The woman contemplates the strain of keeping her affair secret, but acknowledges that she can't end her relationship with the man. She frequently feels exposed and uneasy as a conspicuously affluent woman visiting rough neighborhoods for their meetings. The man picks up the narrative. The assassin is conflicted due to his growing affection for the maiden. He realizes the courtier is yet to arrive and hears someone approaching. He quickly substitutes a handmaiden he'd murdered earlier for the maiden and conceals both of them. With the courtier preoccupied, believing the dead handmaiden to be the maiden, they manage to escape the city. Tired, they fall asleep and wake up to find themselves amongst the People of Joy. The assassin convinces the group that they are celestial emissaries. A gossip column mention elaborates on a grand masquerade ball organized by Winifred and attended by Iris.

part 7

Iris, currently an older woman, gets a new edition of Laura's book, now highly acclaimed. She has a collection of various items related to the book, and recalls how many have tried to learn more about Laura and her work. Iris also thinks about her granddaughter Sabrina and regrets their non-existent relationship. Walter, Iris's driver, takes her to Toronto for a meeting with her lawyer. He also takes her to a restaurant Iris is familiar with, as she used to track Sabrina and once followed her there. She then asks Walter to take her to the house she once shared with Richard. Older Iris remembers her European honeymoon with Richard, a lonely and awkward time for her. Upon their return to Toronto, they move into a lavish home set up by Winifred. Laura then informs Iris of their father's death, a week after Iris's departure, news that Richard had been hiding from her. He claims he was trying to shield her from grief. Iris dashes back to Avilion, where Laura tells her their father died in his room, likely from alcohol consumption upon learning of the Chase factories' permanent shut down. Iris understands that Richard failed to uphold his part of their marriage agreement and the Chase business fell apart anyway. After their father's death, Laura moves in with Richard and Iris in Toronto, since Reenie is marrying and starting a new phase of life. Avilion will be their summer home. Laura will also attend a good school. Meanwhile, Iris feels aimless in Toronto, treated like a child by Winifred and Richard. She encounters Alex Thomas in the city one day. On the day Laura is supposed to reach Toronto, she doesn't show up and her whereabouts are unknown. After a few days, Richard and Iris inform the police and it becomes a media sensation. Eventually, they find out Laura is working at a local amusement park. Richard manages to concoct a cover story for her disappearance before they fetch her. Laura comes home willingly, saying she liked the simple life. Privately, she confesses to Iris her suspicion that Richard played a part in their father's death, and that she wants to avoid depending on him. Iris comforts her sister.

part 8

The woman rendezvous with her lover, keeping the audience in suspense about a secret she needs to reveal. Meanwhile, she shares her sequel of the Zycron narrative, in which the assassin provides the People of Joy with an entry passage to the city, allowing him and the maiden to retreat to a rumored dangerous but actually kind region. They would cohabit with the locals and live peacefully. The man provides an alternate narrative where the couple trades city entry for escape, but they find themselves lost and vulnerable. Taking a storytelling hiatus, the woman announces her month-long departure on a renowned ship. A social bulletin praises the opulence and charm of the affluent passengers on the Queen Mary. During the voyage, the woman reflects on her moments with her lover. Recalling a story he once shared about an alternate universe where two male explorers were engulfed by women catering to every whim, but eventually found their luxurious lifestyle to be suffocating.

part 9

Richard is mentioned in the newspaper, cautioning about Spain's civil unrest and advising Canada's non-involvement. Unexpectedly, the woman and the man reunite in a cozy café. He reveals that he's earned a small sum from a sci-fi story he sold. He surprises her by saying he has a counterfeit passport and plans to join the Spanish civil war. She promises to leave her husband upon his return. He originally suggests she abandon her husband before he leaves, to alleviate his worries in Europe. But she persuades him staying is her only option due to her lack of funds and work skills.

part 10

The lady securely procures a copy of the dime novel where the gentleman's tale has been printed. She reads it quietly, noticing that it encompasses elements of the narrative he shared with her but excludes the romantic plot between the young woman and the sightless killer. Rather, Zycron faces an invasion from Xenor's Lizard Men, and Sakiel-Norn's residents form an alliance with the People of Joy. She desperately awaits a message from the gentleman, but it never arrives. The tale doesn't continue in subsequent issues of the novel.

part 11

A newspaper gossip column highlights a celebration for the birth of Richard and Iris's baby girl, Aimee, born in spring 1937. A letter from May that year reveals Laura's deteriorating health, as the electro-shock therapy she is undergoing fails to cure her "delusions" and her strange obsession with Richard. A woman, presumably Iris, endures a cloud of despair and bewilderment following childbirth. A brief news piece reports on the escalating tension in Spain. This woman daydreams about a scenario where her man comes back, leading to their reunion.

part 12

Richard is mentioned in a newspaper piece, praising the Munich Accord. His belief is that it will boost capitalism and benefit businesses. The piece suggests Richard may aim for a political role within the Conservative party. A social commentary features a lavish function in honor of the King and Queen of Britain's visit. Iris and Richard are among the attendees.

part 13

The male and female characters meet again. He's tired and looking unwell. A war has just ended and he predicts another will follow. She's elated to see him, mentioning she read his Zycron story but wondered why no others followed it. He states he lacked the time to write more. World War II starts, catching the woman off guard. She grows more determined to leave her spouse and daydreams about living independently while waiting for her lover to come back from war. A telegram arrives, bearing news of a death. Bits of their conversation reveal her feigning ignorance about the deceased. She's plagued by dreams of her deceased lover.

part 14

Iris reveals Laura's notebooks, hinting at her abuse by Mr. Erskine and containing a picture of Laura with Alex. Laura has also covertly recorded instances of rape by Richard. This revelation forces Iris to realize Richard was the one who abused Laura, not Alex, and likely fathered Laura's child. Shortly after Laura's funeral, Iris, while Richard is away on business, decides to leave him. She and Aimee retreat to Port Ticonderoga, leaving a letter for Richard, confessing her knowledge about his abuse of Laura. Without wishing to create a scandal, she demands that he keeps his distance and finances her independence. Iris also speaks to Callista, who denies sharing information about Alex's location with Richard. Winifred visits Iris, persuading her to return. Iris, however, accuses her of enabling Richard's abuse. She is adamant that Richard should not be in Aimee's life. Winifred surrenders. Iris, backed by Richard and Laura's funds, starts building a humble life for herself and Aimee. The death of Reenie six months after her return to Port Ticonderoga adds to her loneliness. Iris talks about submitting the manuscript of The Blind Assassin for publication and its subsequent acceptance. Initially overlooked, the risqué content of the book eventually piques public interest, causing scrutiny into Laura's life and potentially revealing Richard's abuse. Richard, infuriated, uses the novel to affirm his suspicion of Laura's affair. Iris fuels this belief. Richard's death, hinted by Iris as suicide, is made to look like natural death by Winifred, who out of anger, takes Aimee away from Iris in retaliation. In the present, Iris confesses to being the author of The Blind Assassin, initially attributing it to Laura as she was not ready to face the truth. Now on her deathbed, she wishes Sabrina to be aware of the truth: that Alex Thomas was Aimee’s father, thereby eliminating any biological link between Sabrina and the Griffen family.

part 15

The lady looks lovingly at a picture of her and the man together at an outdoor event, reminiscing about their romance. Despite the heartache, she can't make herself feel remorse over it. A news report declares the peaceful passing of Iris Chase Griffen in her own home. Her granddaughter, Sabrina, is anticipated to come back to handle her matters. Iris ends her written work with thoughts of a fantasy where she and Sabrina finally come together again.

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