A Review Of The Novel Alias Grace English Literature Essay

1672 words (7 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this

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Grace Marks is one of the two accused for the murders of her employer, Mr. Kinnear and his housewife, Nancy. She was sentenced to life imprisonment. Initially she claims that she does not remember what happened at the scene of the crime. Grace is introverted and carefully chooses what she says so that she does not reveal much information about herself. After Dr. Jordan comes, she opens up a little and tells him her tough childhood and what she remembers about the murders. By the end of the novel, Grace is pardoned, marries her lover, Jamie

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Dr. Simon Jordan is the physician that is to analyze Grace. He is interested in her circumstances and wants to use what he knows about psychology to pry as much information from her as possible so that it can be determined whether or not she really is suffering from amnesia. After entering in a relationship with Mrs. Humphrey, his landlady, and the results of Grace’s hypnotism, Dr. Jordan becomes disillusioned. He is unable to come to a conclusion and in the end just returns to Europe.

Mary Whitney is a girl about Grace’s age who also worked for Mrs. Parkinson. Mary is more experienced with worldly matters and thus becomes sort of like a mentor to Grace. It is through Mary that Grace is able to find family. They are like sisters and become close to each other. She has an affair with Mr. George that ends up in a pregnancy and a failed abortion that takes away her life. Grace seems to care more for Mary than her own mother because when her mom died, she thought twice about using the sheet to cover her. On the other hand, Grace uses her money to provide the best possible funeral for her friend. Supposedly, the spirit of Mary resides in Grace and will come out during hypnotism.

Nancy Montgomery is the housemaid of Mr. Thomas Kinnear. When she is first introduced, she is looking for extra help. She is not as welcoming or friendly as Grace’s last employer, Mrs. Parkinson. She feels as though she is superior to Grace. Nancy has an affair with Kinnear and gets jealous of Kinnear when he starts lusting for Grace. She is later found in the cellar, strangled and her throat cut.

4. Conflicts:

One major conflict in the novel is determining Grace’s innocence and also her identity.

Much of the book is concerned about Grace giving the readers background information about herself and her version of what happened during the time of the murders

The conflict never gets resolved because Dr. Jordan never comes to a conclusion and just abandons his all of his findings. He does not know what to think after he witnesses the spirit of Mary Whitney possess Grace’s body.

Atwood gives you all of many small pieces and it is up to readers to put everything together and then decide whether or not Grace is guilty or not

5. Opening chapter or scene:

Alias Grace opens with a dream about Nancy, a dream that also occurs again later on in the novel. The year is 1851 and Grace is twenty-four years old.

She has been in prison ever since she was sixteen. She tries to be the model prisoner even though life in the penitentiary is described as tough.

She tells this dream to Dr. Jordan when they arrive at the part of the story.

In the next section is a little poem that gives a quick but somewhat inaccurate summary of what has already happened before the novel started.

The opening gives some background information about Grace’s life and also foreshadows many events.

6. Plot:

Grace has been kept at the Kingston Penitentiary when Dr. Jordan comes and performs his project with Grace, the inciting incident

After Grace’s initial reluctance to participate with Dr. Jordan ends, the rising action occurs when Grace relates her past to him. She is an immigrant from Ireland to Canada and suffers from a dysfunctional and poverty-stricken family.

Life was hard for her because her father was worthless. She was able to find a job as a housekeeper.

While working, she befriends Mary Whitney. She is traumatized when Mary dies because of an unsuccessful abortion and quits her job. She takes up another job with Nancy Montgomery, who works at the Kinnear estate

She also meets James McDermott, another worker under Mr. Kinnear. Nancy and Mr. Kinnear seem to have a relationship together but now Kinnear is paying more attention to Grace. James thinks that Nancy and Kinnear should be killed.

Grace then tells Dr. Jordan that James kills them both and then faints when James threatens her. When she awakens, James says that she must keep her part of the deal which implied that she was to go to bed with him.

Grace tries to put him off and persuades him to escape to Toronto but they soon get captured.

In the climax, Dr. Dupont hypnotizes Graces but instead a spirit comes out saying that she is not Grace but Mary Whitney. When the trance is broken, Grace comes back but does not remember what happened during the hypnosis.

7. Conclusion:

In the novel’s falling action and conclusion, a disoriented and confused Dr. Jordan ceases his investigations and returns back to Europe

Grace is pardoned and released from the penitentiary at the age of forty-five. She ends up marrying her childhood lover, Jaime Walsh and soon gets pregnant.

The novel ends with a passage about how Grace will quilt the Tree of Paradise. She will interweave Mary’s petticoat, her prison nightdress, and Nancy’s dress altogether.

The ending was only somewhat appropriate because it did not really feel as if he flowed with the rest of the story, that it did not belong there. It just seems attached on.

8. Themes:

One theme of the novel is gender and feminism in the nineteenth century. Women back then were supposed to act a certain way. They were to be submissive and modest with the men dominating. Women were also thought to be more petite and moral. This may be a reason why James was executed and why Grace was only sent to prison.

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Another theme of the novel is that of sexuality. This theme seems to be a big driving force in the story. Mary Whitney gets involved in a sexual affair that has big repercussions. While in prison Grace must deal with the verbal abuse and sexual advances of the guards. Grace is accused of having a sexual encounter with Jamie in the orchard. Also when Mrs. Humphrey’s husband leaves her, she turns to a sexual relationship with Dr. Jordan for comfort. Dr. Jordan, on the other hand has fantasies of Miss Lydia and even Grace. Both Mr. Kinnear and James lust after Grace. Kinnear and Nancy have an affair too. Either way, sexuality plays an important role in the novel.

9. Symbols/Archetypes:

One big symbol is that of the quilt. There is both a physical quilt, the one that Grace is working on, and a mental quilt. Each time Dr. Jordan examines Grace, it seems if as though another piece of Grace’s life and identity are sewed onto a quilt. All of the little intricate bits and memories are stitched together make up the whole quilt and there are also different ways to look at and interpret quilts. In addition, the title of each chapter is a name of a real quilting design.

Another symbol may be that apples. They could symbolize the truth and knowledge. It could also represent the apple in the Garden of Eden. Grace could symbolize Eve, who was manipulated by something evil and then was punished for it.

10. Parallel events/parallel works:

Alias Grace is similar to the story of the Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gillman. Both works of literature were about psychiatric care. Women were the protagonist in both stories. Also both women were isolated from other people, one in an asylum, another in a lonely room.

The dream that Grace describes in the opening chapter makes another appearance in the middle of the novel. In it, Grace sees Nancy with blood all over her face.

Alias Grace is the retelling of the real story of Grace Marks. It is a historical fiction novel though, so some aspects such as the character of Dr. Simon Jordan are made up.

11. Style:

Atwood rarely uses quotations in this novel. This makes the text more confusing as to who is talking and thinking which thoughts. This does emphasize the ambiguity of Grace’s life and her account of the murders

In addition to the lack of punctuation, Grace also uses the word “could” very often. This makes it seems like she is making up some of the details, that what she says is conditional

The story is presented from the point of view of Grace’s

At the beginning of each chapter, Atwood uses a real historical article and/or a quote that describes something about Grace to introduce the next section.

To highlight the quilt theme, Atwood also names each chapter after a genuine quilting pattern and even provides a small picture of the design.

12. Significant lines:

“I would rather be a murderess than a murderer, if those are the only choices” (23) – showing feminist attitudes

“…like passing through the gates of Hell and into Paradise” (447) – when she left the penitentiary and went off into the real world

and that is the same with all quilts, you can see them two different ways, by looking at the dark pieces, or else the light” (162) – there are always more than one way to look at things in life and everything has a dark and light side

“Murderess is a strong word to have attached to you… (27) – she has a label attached to her and it makes her think a certain way

“And so we will all be together” (460) – the last line of the novel, Grace will all of the remnants of her past onto one quilt so that she can look at it and move on

Grace Marks is one of the two accused for the murders of her employer, Mr. Kinnear and his housewife, Nancy. She was sentenced to life imprisonment. Initially she claims that she does not remember what happened at the scene of the crime. Grace is introverted and carefully chooses what she says so that she does not reveal much information about herself. After Dr. Jordan comes, she opens up a little and tells him her tough childhood and what she remembers about the murders. By the end of the novel, Grace is pardoned, marries her lover, Jamie

Dr. Simon Jordan is the physician that is to analyze Grace. He is interested in her circumstances and wants to use what he knows about psychology to pry as much information from her as possible so that it can be determined whether or not she really is suffering from amnesia. After entering in a relationship with Mrs. Humphrey, his landlady, and the results of Grace’s hypnotism, Dr. Jordan becomes disillusioned. He is unable to come to a conclusion and in the end just returns to Europe.

Mary Whitney is a girl about Grace’s age who also worked for Mrs. Parkinson. Mary is more experienced with worldly matters and thus becomes sort of like a mentor to Grace. It is through Mary that Grace is able to find family. They are like sisters and become close to each other. She has an affair with Mr. George that ends up in a pregnancy and a failed abortion that takes away her life. Grace seems to care more for Mary than her own mother because when her mom died, she thought twice about using the sheet to cover her. On the other hand, Grace uses her money to provide the best possible funeral for her friend. Supposedly, the spirit of Mary resides in Grace and will come out during hypnotism.

Nancy Montgomery is the housemaid of Mr. Thomas Kinnear. When she is first introduced, she is looking for extra help. She is not as welcoming or friendly as Grace’s last employer, Mrs. Parkinson. She feels as though she is superior to Grace. Nancy has an affair with Kinnear and gets jealous of Kinnear when he starts lusting for Grace. She is later found in the cellar, strangled and her throat cut.

4. Conflicts:

One major conflict in the novel is determining Grace’s innocence and also her identity.

Much of the book is concerned about Grace giving the readers background information about herself and her version of what happened during the time of the murders

The conflict never gets resolved because Dr. Jordan never comes to a conclusion and just abandons his all of his findings. He does not know what to think after he witnesses the spirit of Mary Whitney possess Grace’s body.

Atwood gives you all of many small pieces and it is up to readers to put everything together and then decide whether or not Grace is guilty or not

5. Opening chapter or scene:

Alias Grace opens with a dream about Nancy, a dream that also occurs again later on in the novel. The year is 1851 and Grace is twenty-four years old.

She has been in prison ever since she was sixteen. She tries to be the model prisoner even though life in the penitentiary is described as tough.

She tells this dream to Dr. Jordan when they arrive at the part of the story.

In the next section is a little poem that gives a quick but somewhat inaccurate summary of what has already happened before the novel started.

The opening gives some background information about Grace’s life and also foreshadows many events.

6. Plot:

Grace has been kept at the Kingston Penitentiary when Dr. Jordan comes and performs his project with Grace, the inciting incident

After Grace’s initial reluctance to participate with Dr. Jordan ends, the rising action occurs when Grace relates her past to him. She is an immigrant from Ireland to Canada and suffers from a dysfunctional and poverty-stricken family.

Life was hard for her because her father was worthless. She was able to find a job as a housekeeper.

While working, she befriends Mary Whitney. She is traumatized when Mary dies because of an unsuccessful abortion and quits her job. She takes up another job with Nancy Montgomery, who works at the Kinnear estate

She also meets James McDermott, another worker under Mr. Kinnear. Nancy and Mr. Kinnear seem to have a relationship together but now Kinnear is paying more attention to Grace. James thinks that Nancy and Kinnear should be killed.

Grace then tells Dr. Jordan that James kills them both and then faints when James threatens her. When she awakens, James says that she must keep her part of the deal which implied that she was to go to bed with him.

Grace tries to put him off and persuades him to escape to Toronto but they soon get captured.

In the climax, Dr. Dupont hypnotizes Graces but instead a spirit comes out saying that she is not Grace but Mary Whitney. When the trance is broken, Grace comes back but does not remember what happened during the hypnosis.

7. Conclusion:

In the novel’s falling action and conclusion, a disoriented and confused Dr. Jordan ceases his investigations and returns back to Europe

Grace is pardoned and released from the penitentiary at the age of forty-five. She ends up marrying her childhood lover, Jaime Walsh and soon gets pregnant.

The novel ends with a passage about how Grace will quilt the Tree of Paradise. She will interweave Mary’s petticoat, her prison nightdress, and Nancy’s dress altogether.

The ending was only somewhat appropriate because it did not really feel as if he flowed with the rest of the story, that it did not belong there. It just seems attached on.

8. Themes:

One theme of the novel is gender and feminism in the nineteenth century. Women back then were supposed to act a certain way. They were to be submissive and modest with the men dominating. Women were also thought to be more petite and moral. This may be a reason why James was executed and why Grace was only sent to prison.

Another theme of the novel is that of sexuality. This theme seems to be a big driving force in the story. Mary Whitney gets involved in a sexual affair that has big repercussions. While in prison Grace must deal with the verbal abuse and sexual advances of the guards. Grace is accused of having a sexual encounter with Jamie in the orchard. Also when Mrs. Humphrey’s husband leaves her, she turns to a sexual relationship with Dr. Jordan for comfort. Dr. Jordan, on the other hand has fantasies of Miss Lydia and even Grace. Both Mr. Kinnear and James lust after Grace. Kinnear and Nancy have an affair too. Either way, sexuality plays an important role in the novel.

9. Symbols/Archetypes:

One big symbol is that of the quilt. There is both a physical quilt, the one that Grace is working on, and a mental quilt. Each time Dr. Jordan examines Grace, it seems if as though another piece of Grace’s life and identity are sewed onto a quilt. All of the little intricate bits and memories are stitched together make up the whole quilt and there are also different ways to look at and interpret quilts. In addition, the title of each chapter is a name of a real quilting design.

Another symbol may be that apples. They could symbolize the truth and knowledge. It could also represent the apple in the Garden of Eden. Grace could symbolize Eve, who was manipulated by something evil and then was punished for it.

10. Parallel events/parallel works:

Alias Grace is similar to the story of the Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Gillman. Both works of literature were about psychiatric care. Women were the protagonist in both stories. Also both women were isolated from other people, one in an asylum, another in a lonely room.

The dream that Grace describes in the opening chapter makes another appearance in the middle of the novel. In it, Grace sees Nancy with blood all over her face.

Alias Grace is the retelling of the real story of Grace Marks. It is a historical fiction novel though, so some aspects such as the character of Dr. Simon Jordan are made up.

11. Style:

Atwood rarely uses quotations in this novel. This makes the text more confusing as to who is talking and thinking which thoughts. This does emphasize the ambiguity of Grace’s life and her account of the murders

In addition to the lack of punctuation, Grace also uses the word “could” very often. This makes it seems like she is making up some of the details, that what she says is conditional

The story is presented from the point of view of Grace’s

At the beginning of each chapter, Atwood uses a real historical article and/or a quote that describes something about Grace to introduce the next section.

To highlight the quilt theme, Atwood also names each chapter after a genuine quilting pattern and even provides a small picture of the design.

12. Significant lines:

“I would rather be a murderess than a murderer, if those are the only choices” (23) – showing feminist attitudes

“…like passing through the gates of Hell and into Paradise” (447) – when she left the penitentiary and went off into the real world

and that is the same with all quilts, you can see them two different ways, by looking at the dark pieces, or else the light” (162) – there are always more than one way to look at things in life and everything has a dark and light side

“Murderess is a strong word to have attached to you… (27) – she has a label attached to her and it makes her think a certain way

“And so we will all be together” (460) – the last line of the novel, Grace will all of the remnants of her past onto one quilt so that she can look at it and move on

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