It is the ninth day Grace has been visited by Dr. Jordan, and this time he has brought her a potato. Grace says, “Sometimes I think that Dr. Jordan is a little off in the head. But I would rather talk with him about potatoes, if that is what he fancies, than not talk to him at all.” Grace talks to Dr. Jordan about the quilt she is working on for one of the Governor’s daughters, and when he asks what pattern Grace would do on a quilt she’d make for herself, she replies noncommittally with several options. She admits that she knows exactly what kind of quilt she’d make—a Tree of Paradise—but that “saying what you really want out loud brings bad luck” and possibly even punishment. “This is what happened to Mary Whitney,” she says.
Grace’s offhanded comment that Dr. Jordan is “a little off in the head” is actually a radical statement, because it shifts the heavily gendered power dynamic between these two characters. Furthermore, Grace’s assessment of Dr. Jordan’s stability will come to be a kind of premonition, as Dr. Jordan gradually unravels over the course of the novel. The fact that Grace wants to talk to Dr. Jordan regardless of his mental wellbeing underscores the importance of conversation and storytelling as a source of comfort in Grace’s life. Finally, this passage is noteworthy for the way it reveals Grace’s strong sense of superstition—which also echoes her earlier statement that women’s “hunger” is frequently used against them.
Dr. Jordan tries, to no avail, to prompt Grace to talk about what else one might find underground, aside from potatoes. (He is trying to prompt her to think of a cellar, since that is where Thomas Kinnear’s and Nancy Montgomery’s bodies were discovered.) He switches tactics and asks Grace about her dreams. She recalls her dream, in which she was at Mr. Kinnear’s house and a peddler was trying to sell her a hand that is dripping blood. In the dream she worried about the woman who was missing the hand coming to find it, and also about the blood “get[ting] on the clean floor.” To Dr. Jordan, however, Grace says that she doesn’t remember what she dreamed, because she wants to keep her dreams private.
This passage is very important; even more than the vivid, suggestive imagery that Grace’s dream consists of, the fact that Grace deliberately does not tell Dr. Jordan about her dream represents a subversive act, because Grace is asserting her right to her inner life in opposition to Dr. Jordan’s claim on it. The passage also raises the possibility that in the same way that Grace is selectively sharing information with Dr. Jordan, she may also be using a similar “editing” process in the information she discloses to the reader. Thus, at the same time that Grace becomes a more nuanced, empathetic character as the novel progresses, she also becomes arguably more opaque.
Dr. Jordan asks Grace to begin telling her life story. Annoyed, she replies, “I was born, Sir, like anyone else.” Dr. Jordan produces Grace’s confession, saying he’ll read it to her. She refuses, saying, “That is not really my Confession,” but only what her lawyer told her to say and what journalists made up about her. Dr. Jordan asks about Grace’s alias, and Grace responds that Mary Whitney was a friend of hers. “Without her,” she says, “it would have been a different story entirely.”
This passage underscores the importance of female friendship in Grace’s life. As the reader will come to learn, Mary’s death has a huge impact on Grace’s identity and her future relationships, particularly the tense relationship between Grace and Nancy Montgomery. Grace’s statement that the confession she gave isn’t really her confession also hints at the fallibility of the written word, and underscores the importance of Grace being able to narrate her own story, rather than having it interpreted through a male authorial lens.