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The Blind Assassin
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Archives > The Blind Assassin: October 8-14: Parts 5 & 6

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message 1: by Dianne (last edited Oct 08, 2017 02:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dianne | 159 comments We are up to Week Two! I found this week's section to be MUCH smoother sailing than the first one! It was nice to finally see more about Iris and Laura's childhood and their relationship growing up. I pose a few questions, feel free to answer any or all or just post your own comments and questions!

1. How did the changing socioeconomic status of the Chase family impact Norval, his daughters, and their fate? Do you think certain outcomes would NOT have occurred if they had not been in dire straits?

2. What were your thoughts on Alex Thomas and the relationship that Iris and Laura had with him?

3. What are your thoughts on how relationships between men and women were perceived during this era? Do you think that Reenie poisoned Iris' view of men with her fear mongering and notion that women were likely to be powerless to the advances of men? Would Iris the senior citizen agree with this notion of powerlessness?

4. Laura flings herself in the river and glares at her sister when she tries to save her. Can you imagine! A young girl, even while about to drown, STILL objects to being saved? What do we learn about Laura's character here? What do we learn about Iris - who notes - "How hard it had been to hold on to her. How close I had come to letting go."

5. Iris is treated as chattel in her marriage to Richard - what does the arrangement and the marriage itself say about the roles of women, social status and the role of love in this union? How does this affect Iris, Laura, Norval?

6. Callie and Winifred - how do they influence Iris?

7. The blind assassin pieces - I still have zero idea where this is going - do you have any ideas of how this ties into the main narrative yet?

8. This passage struck me - "Romance takes place in the middle distance. Romance is looking in at yourself, through a window clouded with dew. Romance means leaving things out: where life grunts and snuffles, romance only sighs. Does she want more of that - more of him? Does she want the whole picture?" Do you agree with this? That romance can only exist in the misty haze, and not when you learn all of the gritty details about the other person and their daily troubles?


Melissa Yes this section went more smoothly for me too. I think because the first and longest part in this section was Iris’s story told through her remembering her history.

1. How did the changing socioeconomic status of the Chase family impact Norval, his daughters, and their fate? Do you think certain outcomes would NOT have occurred if they had not been in dire straits?

Yes, and yes and yes. Without the issues of the time (depression), Norval definitely wouldn’t have been spending time with his rival let alone marrying his daughter to him to cosolidate the business, so to speak. More prosperous times probably would have also lead their father and the town to be happier, at least less drinking and dangerous behaviors.

2. What were your thoughts on Alex Thomas and the relationship that Iris and Laura had with him?

Honestly, they were both way to young, and more people, even servants, in their lives might have helped. With their mom gone and their father very distracted, I think they were able to slip through the cracks much more easily than girls of their position would have been able to normally.

3. What are your thoughts on how relationships between men and women were perceived during this era? Do you think that Reenie poisoned Iris' view of men with her fear mongering and notion that women were likely to be powerless to the advances of men? Would Iris the senior citizen agree with this notion of powerlessness?

I think so, but I don’t think it was that unusual at the time, when women were often chaperoned and not alone with a man until they were married....you know because men can’t control themselves.

4. Laura flings herself in the river and glares at her sister when she tries to save her. Can you imagine! A young girl, even while about to drown, STILL objects to being saved? What do we learn about Laura's character here? What do we learn about Iris - who notes - "How hard it had been to hold on to her. How close I had come to letting go."

That Laura often felt not part of this world, it was too painfully for her to bear in many ways.....and that her sister felt so held back watching over her, that she sort of wanted to let her go and be free.

5. Iris is treated as chattel in her marriage to Richard - what does the arrangement and the marriage itself say about the roles of women, social status and the role of love in this union? How does this affect Iris, Laura, Norval?

Again... I’m going to go with the times, although arranged marriages does still happen today, but there was a time when women, especially women of means, were married for the family, for money etc. When they discussed their Grandma marrying new money, so the new money got her sophistication, at least by Iris’s time it was starting to shift a bit, that’s why her father said it was up to her, even though she was pressured to say yes. Love had no place in arranged marriages, you found that outside of marriage in many cases. For Norval it might save the family business and “his men’s” livelihood, for Laura she loses the closest thing to a mother/parent she has had for most of her life.

6. Callie and Winifred - how do they influence Iris?

Callie, how to manipulate men and still be herself. Winifred how to twist yourself into what makes your husband look the best, be the best arm candy you can be.

7. The blind assassin pieces - I still have zero idea where this is going - do you have any ideas of how this ties into the main narrative yet?

At first I thought it was Laura’s Book, but I’ve changed my mind there. Iris is the one who loved sci-if stories in the magazines she got from Renee...I’m thinking it’s Iris’s now, published under Laura’s name after her death to protect Iris’s name/place/status etc.

8. This passage struck me - "Romance takes place in the middle distance. Romance is looking in at yourself, through a window clouded with dew. Romance means leaving things out: where life grunts and snuffles, romance only sighs. Does she want more of that - more of him? Does she want the whole picture?" Do you agree with this? That romance can only exist in the misty haze, and not when you learn all of the gritty details about the other person and their daily troubles?

I’m not sure....I tend to disagree.... and depending on who the girl is going to the claundistine meetings, I’m guessing the sneaking away and not being in the nitty gritty is what makes her excited. It’s the escapism for her, literally and figuratively.


Gail (gailifer) | 1231 comments I am really loving this book so far. The layers of the Old Iris in play with the Young Iris is very engaging. "...but is what I remember the same thing as what actually happened? Is is now: I am the only survivor." I believe that Callie, Winifred, in addition to moving the narrative story along also represent possible ways of living a life during that time. Both of them were dependent on men but had managed to find a way to have independence and power within their worlds regardless. Iris could see that she had none. In fact she appears to view herself not only as powerless but not even whole. I think that is why Laura is so distressed by Iris' marriage. It makes Iris clearly not whole. As for Romance and what is going on with the Blind Assassin story - the layers continue. The older Iris is remembering her younger self, but is she also remembering HIS younger self? And if so, this line is great: (p276) Better not to invent her in her absence. Better to wait until she is actually here. Then he can make her up as she goes along."
Is Iris remembering (making up) a romance that in turn makes her up? That would answer the question #8 posed. It is neither seeing in a mist, or seeing all the gritty details. It is what the seeing MAKES of the other person. Iris is made whole by being seen rather than seeing.


Book Wormy | 1837 comments Mod
1. How did the changing socioeconomic status of the Chase family impact Norval, his daughters, and their fate? Do you think certain outcomes would NOT have occurred if they had not been in dire straits?

The socioeconomic status had a huge impact without the depression and the financial losses at the button factory Iris would not have married Richard, Norval may not have taken to drink, Alex and the comrades may never have arrived in town and the townsfolk/ factory workers would have kept respect for the family.

2. What were your thoughts on Alex Thomas and the relationship that Iris and Laura had with him?

Alex needed the girls to hide him but I think he also resented his lack of freedom and the fact he was reliant on them basically to stay alive. Both girls obviously had crushes on him probably as he was the first man other than their father that they had a close link to.

3. What are your thoughts on how relationships between men and women were perceived during this era? Do you think that Reenie poisoned Iris' view of men with her fear mongering and notion that women were likely to be powerless to the advances of men? Would Iris the senior citizen agree with this notion of powerlessness?

I would say it was the era of the whole virgin/whore complex if you weren't a virgin you were a whore. Wives were above suspicion and there to make their husbands look good while single women were viewed with suspicion. I would say the older Iris acknowledges that this is how things were but also she would recognise that the world has moved on.

4. Laura flings herself in the river and glares at her sister when she tries to save her. Can you imagine! A young girl, even while about to drown, STILL objects to being saved? What do we learn about Laura's character here? What do we learn about Iris - who notes - "How hard it had been to hold on to her. How close I had come to letting go."

Lauren does this after the discussion about war heroes making the ultimate sacrifice so others can live in her mind Laura believes her drowning will bring her mother back to life. She objects to being saved because she wants to make the ultimate sacrifice Laura is nothing if not determined. Iris finding it difficult to hold on can be read in 2 ways physically it would have been hard for her to save Laura due to Laura's weight and the strength of the river, mentally part of her may have wished to be free.

5. Iris is treated as chattel in her marriage to Richard - what does the arrangement and the marriage itself say about the roles of women, social status and the role of love in this union? How does this affect Iris, Laura, Norval?

There is no love in Iris' marriage Laura is upset by this as she understands that Iris is making the sacrifice for the family. Iris accepts her marriage as the only way to save her family and Norval pressures her into it but telling her how much relies on her getting married.

6. Callie and Winifred - how do they influence Iris?

Callie I would say is an older sister to Iris not old enough to be her mother but she explains the basics of what being a woman is about she is also free to come and go as she pleases and not bound to a man to make him happy. Winifred has found power through her influence over her brother and her place in society. While Callie tries to help Iris grow up, Winifred really wants her to remain as a child who can be dominated.

7. The blind assassin pieces - I still have zero idea where this is going - do you have any ideas of how this ties into the main narrative yet?

Some of the sections tie into the main section, there are women being sacrificed for the good of the community - Iris marriage, suicides - Laura, romance - the girls feelings for Alex and the approaching army of joy - the communist comrades.

That is just my take on it.

8. This passage struck me - "Romance takes place in the middle distance. Romance is looking in at yourself, through a window clouded with dew. Romance means leaving things out: where life grunts and snuffles, romance only sighs. Does she want more of that - more of him? Does she want the whole picture?" Do you agree with this? That romance can only exist in the misty haze, and not when you learn all of the gritty details about the other person and their daily troubles?

I would say romance does exist in that haze but love comes when you know and accept all the gritty details of daily life.


Diane Zwang | 1206 comments Mod
1. I am still processing how Norval benefits from the marriage of Richard to Iris. Certainly Iris is taken care of which I think was Norval's goal. Iris did what she thought was the sensible thing but I am not sure it was her only option. I tended to agree with Laura that they could have got jobs. This one decision certainly affected the family in more ways than one.

2. Alex Thomas is definitely an outsider. I am not sure why Iris and Laura helped the man that burned the factory down. I think the girls found it exciting hiding Alex. He also is another complicating factor between Laura and Iris.

3. I think the relationships between men and women were typical for the time. Would Iris the senior citizen agree with this notion of powerlessness? No, she is one feisty woman.

4. The river scene again shows the girls complicated relationship. Laura even mentions that she thought her sister did it on purpose or am I remembering another incident? Anyway, I think Laura has attention seeking behavior.

5. Iris and Richard have an arranged marriage which I don't quite fully understand. I guess Richard wanted a young naive wife? Iris is treated like chattel by both Richard and his sister. Iris is bound by duty. I don't know what Norval is thinking. And Laura feels abandoned by her sister. All around a bad situation.

6. Callie leaves as soon as the depression hits and money is tight. She was a user. Winifred seems to be helping and warning Iris at the same time. She is interesting.

7. The blind assassin pieces. I still do not know where this is going but I am hopeful that it will come together soon.


message 6: by Diane (last edited Oct 15, 2017 06:07AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Diane | 1990 comments 1. How did the changing socioeconomic status of the Chase family impact Norval, his daughters, and their fate? Do you think certain outcomes would NOT have occurred if they had not been in dire straits?

It seriously changed their status and their fates. The marriage between Iris and Richard would not occurred, (view spoiler), and a whole domino effect of things that happened later on in the book would most likely have not occurred.

2. What were your thoughts on Alex Thomas and the relationship that Iris and Laura had with him?

It was an odd relationship, given the circumstances. I think they both had feelings for him and one of them most likely had a more serious relationship with him.

3. What are your thoughts on how relationships between men and women were perceived during this era? Do you think that Reenie poisoned Iris' view of men with her fear mongering and notion that women were likely to be powerless to the advances of men? Would Iris the senior citizen agree with this notion of powerlessness?

It was very important to keep up appearances at that time and avoid any implications of impropriety. Girls were supposed to remain chaste until married. Being labeled as a loose woman (whether it was true or not) was a social stigma that followed you throughout life. Married woman were more of an extension of their husbands and did not seem to have their own identity. Women stayed in abusive marriages because divorce was taboo and also to avoid the loss of security and/or status that would ensue. Divorcees were often unjustly labeled as loose women, too. I think the elderly Iris would agree that this was the case, but would probably not fall into the same traps in retrospect.

4. Laura flings herself in the river and glares at her sister when she tries to save her. Can you imagine! A young girl, even while about to drown, STILL objects to being saved? What do we learn about Laura's character here? What do we learn about Iris - who notes - "How hard it had been to hold on to her. How close I had come to letting go."

Laura seems to march to the beat of a different drummer. She does some unusual things and can be quite stubborn and often likes to make a statement without words. I think the quote has double meaning in the relationship between the two sisters.

5. Iris is treated as chattel in her marriage to Richard - what does the arrangement and the marriage itself say about the roles of women, social status and the role of love in this union? How does this affect Iris, Laura, Norval?

See response to question #3. Their marriage was essentially to save Norval's business and to provide security for the girls. Love was not a factor here. In arranged marriages it is often assumed that the pair will later learn to love one another. It caused a change in the relationship between the sisters.

7. The blind assassin pieces - I still have zero idea where this is going - do you have any ideas of how this ties into the main narrative yet?

I am still trying to figure this out myself. I think it is starting maybe to tie in a little bit, at least symbolically. Perhaps I am trying to make connects that aren't really there in attempt to make sense of it.

8. This passage struck me - "Romance takes place in the middle distance. Romance is looking in at yourself, through a window clouded with dew. Romance means leaving things out: where life grunts and snuffles, romance only sighs. Does she want more of that - more of him? Does she want the whole picture?" Do you agree with this? That romance can only exist in the misty haze, and not when you learn all of the gritty details about the other person and their daily troubles?

I think romance, in this sense, refers to new love or infatuation when people are kind of blind to the other's faults and the realities of life in regards to the relationship. It is more of a dreamlike state than reality. As reality sinks in and the flaws of the other person manifest themselves, this dreamlike haze tends to fade and we see things for what they really are instead of a romantic notion or idealistic view.


message 7: by Pip (last edited Oct 22, 2017 08:26PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Pip | 1325 comments 1. How did the changing socioeconomic status of the Chase family impact Norval, his daughters, and their fate? Do you think certain outcomes would NOT have occurred if they had not been in dire straits? I agree with others'answers. In a different economic era things would have been very different for the girls.

2. What were your thoughts on Alex Thomas and the relationship that Iris and Laura had with him?
Alex is a glamorous agitator in the eyes of both girls. He seems to have had no morals when it came to his relationships with them. Laura was only fourteen and he was using her to gain safety. He may have had a sexual relationship with her too. Later he was Iris' lover but I am suspicious that he may have still been having an affair with Laura.

3. What are your thoughts on how relationships between men and women were perceived during this era? Do you think that Reenie poisoned Iris' view of men with her fear mongering and notion that women were likely to be powerless to the advances of men? Would Iris the senior citizen agree with this notion of powerlessness?
Reenie saw men as predators and young women as powerless to resist which was why she didn't allow movie outings. It was ironic, therefore that the girls came under the influence of Alex, that Reenie herself became pregnant and Callie was tolerated. Iris' impotence in her relationship with her husband may have been due to Reenie's teachings.

4. Laura flings herself in the river and glares at her sister when she tries to save her. Can you imagine! A young girl, even while about to drown, STILL objects to being saved? What do we learn about Laura's character here? What do we learn about Iris - who notes - "How hard it had been to hold on to her. How close I had come to letting go."
Laura was impulsive and given to strange beliefs. She genuinely thought that sacrificing herself would bring her mother back, so she was selfless sometimes, although unable to empathise with others other times. Iris is hard on herself, remembering that she almost let go of Laura.

5. Iris is treated as chattel in her marriage to Richard - what does the arrangement and the marriage itself say about the roles of women, social status and the role of love in this union? How does this affect Iris, Laura, Norval?
Iris acts like a chattel, Laura is appalled and Norval drinks to console himself that he has sacrificed his daughter for economic security.

7. The blind assassin pieces - I still have zero idea where this is going - do you have any ideas of how this ties into the main narrative yet?

The fantasy sections are devised by Alex to amuse Iris and she adds to the narrative. I have not worked out whether the blind assassins are symbolic but the sacrifice of the maidens seems to be mirrored in Iris' sacrifice to her marriage.

8. This passage struck me - "Romance takes place in the middle distance. Romance is looking in at yourself, through a window clouded with dew. Romance means leaving things out: where life grunts and snuffles, romance only sighs. Does she want more of that - more of him? Does she want the whole picture?" Do you agree with this? That romance can only exist in the misty haze, and not when you learn all of the gritty details about the other person and their daily troubles?

Iris (I am sure it is Iris) is contemplating her relationship with Alex (I am sure it is Alex). They meet occasionally for sex and to weave the stories they devise. They do not have the ordinary gritty details of lives lived together, although the milieux of their meetings is not the least glamorous.


message 8: by Paula (new) - added it

Paula S (paula_s) | 221 comments 1. How did the changing socioeconomic status of the Chase family impact Norval, his daughters, and their fate? Do you think certain outcomes would NOT have occurred if they had not been in dire straits?
- Of course the depression had enormous impact. Norval drinks too much, there's not enough money to keep the girls appropriately dressed, they lose their servants, etc. Iris would never have married Richard if she didn't feel like she had to to secure her (financial) future.

2. What were your thoughts on Alex Thomas and the relationship that Iris and Laura had with him?
- At the picnic he was just enjoying their company and the girls admired him because he was an interesting stranger and the first man to pay any attention to them as young women. Later when he was on the run it was Laura's idealism that made her hide him, which made him even more a romantic figure in their imagination.

3. What are your thoughts on how relationships between men and women were perceived during this era? Do you think that Reenie poisoned Iris' view of men with her fear mongering and notion that women were likely to be powerless to the advances of men? Would Iris the senior citizen agree with this notion of powerlessness?
- I think older Iris can see other ways the story could have played out, but I also think that see understands that the younger her didn't see it that way. Young women are even today warned about men and cautioned to take care in how they dress and where they go, so while I do think it at least to some extent poisoned Iris's mind I also think that it still happens.

4. Laura flings herself in the river and glares at her sister when she tries to save her. Can you imagine! A young girl, even while about to drown, STILL objects to being saved? What do we learn about Laura's character here? What do we learn about Iris - who notes - "How hard it had been to hold on to her. How close I had come to letting go."
- Like others said above, Laura was trying to bring back her mother, so of course she didn't want to be saved! It's hard work being a big sister and taking responsibility for a younger sibling, so no wonder Iris had an impulse to just let go.

5. Iris is treated as chattel in her marriage to Richard - what does the arrangement and the marriage itself say about the roles of women, social status and the role of love in this union? How does this affect Iris, Laura, Norval?
- It seems it was common to believe that affection and love would grow after marriage and that the bride didn't have to feel anything for her husband. Iris was just doing what was expected of her. Laura didn't care about meeting people's expectations and Norval seems to use alcohol to cope with losing his fortune and having to more or less sell his daughter.

6. Callie and Winifred - how do they influence Iris?
I liked Callie, she seemed like a strong women doing her best with what little influence she had with Norval. Winifred on the other hand seems like pure poison, trying to keep Iris down and under her power.

7. The blind assassin pieces - I still have zero idea where this is going - do you have any ideas of how this ties into the main narrative yet?
- I still like these parts and I still assume that it is a fictionalized acount of Iris's infidelity to her husband.

8. This passage struck me - "Romance takes place in the middle distance. Romance is looking in at yourself, through a window clouded with dew. Romance means leaving things out: where life grunts and snuffles, romance only sighs. Does she want more of that - more of him? Does she want the whole picture?" Do you agree with this? That romance can only exist in the misty haze, and not when you learn all of the gritty details about the other person and their daily troubles?
- Romance is almost by definition to look at things with a softened lens, or a misty haze. I don't agree that losing some of the romance is necessarily a bad thing in a relationship. You have to get real eventually if it is going to last.


Connie D | 91 comments 8. About the romance quote. Maybe it's true about romance, but not about love. Love is nearly the opposite, from my point of view. Maybe it's one reason I struggle to enjoy the "romantic" episodes in this book. So far in this book, I haven't seen any real romance or love, just people using each other.


Connie D | 91 comments 2. Actually, I really enjoyed the Alex Thompson story line and both sister's interest/fascination and vice versa. It, incidentally, gave us a peek into the possibility that Iris was attractive to the opposite sex. There's a tiny bit of The Beloved narrative here; he becomes in some ways their prisoner and a different object of affection for each.


Connie D | 91 comments You all have made great comments of other questions already.


Sushicat | 292 comments I think that Norval’s sense of responsibility towards his men contributed to the downfall. He kept things running long past a reasonable point and trying to save the Factory was a big part of him pushing Iris towards Richard. In those times people saw marriage as much more of an economic transaction and in that sense Iris’ wedding Richard makes sense. But Norval failed to nail down the conditions properly, thus making the sacrifice rather pointless. The influence of Winifred on things was toxic.

As to the Blind Assassin sections, I’m pretty sure the man is Alex. But unsure of which of the two sisters is the woman. It seems to me whoever is the lover is also the writer. And I rather think it is Iris.

As to romance, I think the quote is apt. Romance is what starts us off into a relationship, loved is what keeps it going. I think the two are independent.


Connie D | 91 comments 1. I would hope that Norval wouldn't have sold his daughter off to Richard if he hadn't had such extreme economic pressures. Laura soon proves that the daughters could have gotten jobs and survived. ..even though initially Iris and her father especially didn't think Laura could manage without the financial help of Richard and a married Iris. It's one of the most heinous and horrible decisions in this book full of poor decisions/lack of decisions.


message 14: by Jen (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen | 1608 comments Mod
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