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Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace Essay

1178 words - 5 pages

Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace

Margaret Atwood was born on November 18, 1939 in Ottawa, Ontario, and since then she has lived in various places such as Boston, London, France, Italy, Germany, and Alabama. She currently resides in Toronto. Atwood has written numerous poems, novels, short stories, children’s books, magazine articles, and works of nonfiction. She has also written three television scripts, and she has edited anthologies. Some of her well-known novels include The Handmaid’s Tale, Cat’s Eye, The Robber Bride, and Alias Grace ("Atwood").

Alias Grace is a fictional work based on the true story of Grace Marks, a servant who was accused of murdering her employer and his mistress in Canada in 1843. Grace was a servant in the home of Thomas Kinnear, whose housekeeper and mistress was Nancy Montgomery. When Thomas and Nancy were found murdered, Grace and James McDermott, another servant, were arrested for the crime, and James was hanged. Grace was imprisoned for several years during which people who believed her to be innocent petitioned for her release, which finally occurred in 1872. Atwood’s novel is a blend of fact and fiction in which writers who wrote about Grace during her life are quoted.

The story revolves around repressed memories, a common theme in Atwood’s novels. Grace is the only living witness to the murders of Thomas and Nancy, but she claims that she does not remember exactly what happened. Whether she was involved in the murders or the helpless victim of James McDermott is a mystery. Most of the action in the novel occurs during Grace’s imprisonment. She tells her life story to Simon Jordan, a doctor who visits her with the goal of restoring her memory and learning what really happened.

In addition to the theme of Grace’s repressed memories, issues of power, sanity, spiritualism, and female sexuality also dominate the novel. Grace not only spends time in prison, but also spends some time in an asylum because the people in power doubt her sanity, although she appears to be perfectly sane to the reader. On the surface, Jordan is an amiable character who is interested in finding the truth. His interest in helping people is made apparent in his goal of eventually having his own asylum in which the inmates will be treated well and rehabilitated. But in spite of this benevolent goal, Jordan has a darker side. He wants to help other people, but he has an unhealthy desire to have power over people. When he first meets Grace, she looks frail and helpless in her prison cell. When she looks at him and communicates like a sane person, he is surprised and feels a loss of power as a result of Grace’s self-possession and sanity. Jordan’s power issues are made more apparent by his strange fantasies, sexual and otherwise, that always involve his having power over a woman.

Both Grace’s sanity and her sexuality are topics of discussion among the characters who are fascinated with her case. In reality, there were many...

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