Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.

Essay by jen5273College, UndergraduateA, April 2004

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Alias Grace is based on the true life of Grace Marks, a young 19th century servant girl accused of scheming with a fellow servant, James McDermott, to murder her employer, Mr. Kinnear, and his mistress, who is also the head housekeeper. McDermott is hanged for his crime, but as only an accomplice, Grace is handed a lifetime sentence in the Penitentiary. After unnecessarily spending some time in a Lunatic Asylum, Grace is transferred to the Penitentiary where she is a model prisoner, and so, given privileges to leave the prison and work as a servant in the Governor's house. It is at the Governor's house that she is introduced to Dr. Simon Jordan, a psychologist very interested in Grace's story and the opportunity of study that she represents. Dr. Jordan is hired by a committee made up of the Governor's wife, the Reverend Verringer, and several other influential citizens who are working towards securing a pardon for Grace.

Through object association activities and dream interpretations, Dr. Jordan attempts to reconstruct Grace's memory of the murders and establish what really happened. He is increasingly discouraged as time goes on, however, and eventually flees for Europe as his own life spirals out of his control. Grace does finally receive her pardon, 29 years after she was first convicted of murder. All ends happily when she moves to the United States and is reunited with Jamie Walsh, her childhood sweetheart from Mr. Kinnear's farm. When we leave Grace, she is happily married and carrying a child at the age of 46.

Atwood tells this complex story by rotating between first-person and third-person narrative and peppers the tale with trial records, press articles, and poems from the time. The Victorian culture of that period comes alive through Atwood's retelling, and makes it impossible...