Evan Shang

Unfolding the Truth of Alias Grace

alias grace

The truth behind any book holds great importance to the ones who reads it. When we are unable to uncover the truth about a book, we are in a state of distress, wonder and curiosity.  The author, Margret Atwood skillfully delivers these intense constant feelings through one of her best known novels, Alias Grace. Through the use of character development, multiple perspectives, first-person narrative, etc., she is able to provide the readers with more than one plausible answer to the truth. It is up to the readers to decipher and unfold the real truth to Alias Grace from their own understanding of the book.

Within a novel one of the most important things are the characters and their development throughout the story. Through character development the readers get a better understanding of what they are reading. Atwood deliberately shows us different lights to many characters to deny us from the truth of the characters. Seeing the character from various perspectives makes the readers unable to determine which side of the character to perceive as the actual character. During the meetings with Grace Marks, Simon Jordan is depicted as a well behaved man who is very knowledgeable and respectful towards women. However, the readers soon learn that Simon is quite a different man when not doing his job. From his actions, thoughts and dreams, we come to the conclusion that he is quite different from the person we see during his meetings with Grace Marks and is frequently controlled by his lust. We notice that Simon fantasizes about women quite a lot. When meeting Lydia for the first time, “He suspects that she is flirting with him” (100) after exchanging a few words. His lust also showed when he regularly sees his past maids in his dreams. “In his dream … Women, the maids … Waiting for him.” (159) Eventually, while he is dreaming in one of his fantasies about Grace he has sex with an unknown woman “It’s a woman, under the sheet; he can tell by the contours.”(421) who he imagines is Grace and believes it to be a dream. It is quickly revealed after that it was not a dream and the woman is his landlady, Mrs. Humphreys. From this, we are unable to understand the personality characters such as Dr. Jordan to the fullest extent.  If the truth of the characters’ personalities is being hid away from us, it is the same for the characters within the book. When two characters depart and return to their individual lives (such as Grace and Simon), they are unable to know what is happening to them. When Grace overhears Dora talking about Simon Jordan, she could not believe that Simon did those things with his landlady. “I was astonished to realize that this Dr. Jordan she was talking about was the same one as my Dr. Jordan; but I was curious as well, for I hadn’t known all those things about his landlady, or indeed anything about her at all” (362) In the letter to Jeremiah (510), from the Grace’s tone we can assume that she feels betrayed by Dr. Jordan and the letter goes to show that she did not know the “true” Simon Jordan. Being unable witness what the other person does outside their eyes, the characters keep their perception of each other from the knowledge they have from being with them. Therefore they are unable to perceive that person as anything else, which in result hides the truth of that person from them and ultimately the readers of this book.

Using several other methods, Atwood continues to wrap us in a cloak of deception and mystery once again. The book is centered around Grace Marks and the murder she was believed to be involved in. The book is narrated in two ways that alternates, one being the third-person narrative and the other being the first person narrative. The first person narrative is in Grace’s perspective. Throughout the entire book, Atwood intentionally made Grace lie. The amount is just enough to make the readers question whether to believe what she says. Often times, there’s something in our minds telling us that we should believe every word she says. But we sometimes doubt  the validity of her words during her meetings with Dr. Jordan, because she is capable of lying. “What does apple make you think about? … But I will not tell him that.” (43) of their sessions. Since Grace is narrating the story, it almost feels like Atwood is intentionally telling us when Grace is lying or going to lie. We are unable to believe everything we are told, since we already know she lies quite frequently. There is no guarantee that she will always tell the truth to the readers and that it will come when we least expect it because Atwood always tells us before hand that she is going to lie. “But I do not say any of this to Dr. Jordan.” (253) The murder of Nancy and Mr. Kinnear has been told by different people, such as McDermott, Grace, and Susanna Moodie. They are all treated equally as characters of this book, but they tell the same story differently. Atwood made this happen so the readers wonder who is actually telling the correct version of  the incident. In the beginning of the book there was a ballad about what happened and basically gave a whole summary of the murder of Mr. Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery (11) During a meeting with Simon Jordan, Grace tells him that he did not help McDermott out of love, but out of fear. From this there are two possible conclusions we can arrive at. One being the poem tells and truth and the other being Grace. But With a lying character to tell the story and multiple versions of that same story, we, the readers are unable to unfold the truth.

Even though the book is narrated by a lying character and has different sides to the main incident, it is still very hard for us to see the truth. Nevertheless we can piece together information and eventually interpret what the truth actually is. However, Atwood has made this hard for us, because she has written the book in a way that there is more than one plausible interpretation of the truth.  Near the end of the book Jeremiah the peddler performs hypnosis and brings out “Mary Whitney’s soul” from Grace’s mind. Simon Jordan noted that Grace seemed very frightened after talking to Jerome DuPont (Jeremiah the peddler) and he has never seen her like that before. “She’s so high-strung Simon can almost feel her vibrating, like a stretched rope. He’s never seen her so terrified”. There might be a possibility that Du Pont could have already instructed Grace to act the way she did before the hypnosis process, because he too has met Mary Whitney before. With this hypnosis performance, it is not impossible to say that Du Pont did this to help Grace in a way to make it seem that it wasn’t actually her, who co-operated with McDermont and murdered Nancy and Mr. Kinnear.  At the same time, when Grace sleepwalks and when she kills Nancy, Grace had no memory of it. It is believed that Mary Whitney had killed Nancy, because she actually took control over Grace during those moments. To keep the readers in further suspense, Atwood has given us an alternative truth after the hypnosis act. She constructs a scene after the hypnosis on Grace and suggests that Grace has a double consciousness/personality and that other consciousness is indeed insane. “It may be a neurological condition… he calls it double consciousness.” (485) This can be only be a plausible truth. The readers do not know if that is actually the case. Grace claims that she does not know exactly how Nancy died and that there are many parts of her story that she doesn’t remember. We can assume that other consciousness indeed took the life of Nancy and Mr. Kinnear and caused Grace to have no memory of what has happened. Another scenario is that Grace could have lied about everything and did help James with the murders. It would also be interpreted that the second consciousness of Grace was brought out by the hypnosis performance. It is difficult for us to interpret the truth of things when something such as hypnosis has been used. From these examples, it seems that Margret Atwood wanted to allow the readers to interpret the truth in multiple ways.

Alias Grace is a unique novel that constantly keeping the readers in suspense. Using a series of clever maneuvers, Atwood manages to convince the readers of multiple plausible truths if not hiding it completely from the audience. We the readers are always on our toes and intrigued while reading this book. If making the readers unable to be aware of the truth was Atwood’s goal from the beginning. We can say that she accomplished her goal. Because even now, we still do not know the truth about the mysterious Grace Marks.

Work Cited:

Atwood, Margaret. Alias Grace. USA: Seals, 2000. Print.