How does Margaret Atwood portray women in Alias Grace?

Essay by libra26College, UndergraduateA, September 2003

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A woman, especially if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can-Jane Austen. Throughout Alias Grace Atwood explores the way in which women conceal certain aspects and modify others of themselves in order to ,quite literally, get away with murder. The preconception that women are stupid, harmless beings is one that leads to the downfall of many men in the novel. Atwood portrays women in many different ways as lovers, wives, children, friends but upon reading between the lines we can see that there is one charcteristic these women all share, from the very richest, most beautiful ladies 'Miss Cartwright' to the middle aged, working class spinster 'Jordans housekeeper' and that is the ability to manipulate.

A major theme that runs throughout the novel is that of the importance of reputation and how others view us in society. This is as important, if not more so, for women than men, I believe this is a conscious decision on the behalf of Atwood.

Atwood uses Alias Grace to explore why women feel this need for acceptance and recognition. Both classes of women demonstrate the importance of reputation but their expectations contrast. Lower class women, such as Mary Whitney expect simply to be acknowledged and not to be seen as sordid. Mary Whitney does not want 'whatever reputation she had left'-pg. 202 ruined. Upper class women, however, such as the governors wife demand far more and wish to be seen as an intelligent, valuable member of the community, this is evident in the spiritualist circle they engage in, 'on Thursdays, the spiritualist circle for tea and conversing with the dead'- pg. 24 which allows them to feel they have some significance and influence in traditionally male affairs. Grace demands more than what would...