Alias Grace

Alias Grace

Alias Grace Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Grace notices that Dr. Jordan “looks more disarranged than usual, and as if he has something on his mind.” He asks after the new quilt Grace is working on, and she replies that it is a Pandora’s Box pattern, which, she says, “puts [Dr. Jordan] in an instructive mood.” Grace catches Dr. Jordan off guard when she reveals that she knows the story of Pandora’s box. They discuss the concept of hope, but instead of saying that “[she has] been getting along without it for some time,” Grace asks Dr. Jordan if he is ill. He replies that he is only “preoccupied,” and asks Grace if she will continue her life story to help distract him. She obliges.
Grace yet again exceeds Dr. Jordan’s expectations; she is more well-read than he expects her to be given her class status and her gender, not to mention her status as an incarcerated person. The fact that Grace refuses to truly engage Dr. Jordan in a full-on conversation about hope suggests that there are aspects of her inner life that she is unwilling to share with him. In fact, Grace seems reticent to share even with the reader any details about the hopelessness and despair she feels. Her quips thus mask a depth of feeling that Grace seems unwilling to fully admit perhaps even to herself.
Themes
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
Grace says that she has “come to a happier part of [her] story,” where she will tell Dr. Jordan about Mary Whitney. Grace describes the Alderman Parkinson house, “one of the finest houses in Toronto,” where she began work. Mr. Alderman Parkinson is never at home, because he is busy with his work in politics. Mrs. Alderman Parkinson is “an imposing figure,” and, as Grace tells Dr. Jordan, “Mary Whitney said she ought to have been the Alderman herself, as she was the better man.” The Parkinsons have two college-aged sons and they keep a large house staff. Grace is placed in a one-room bedroom with Mary Whitney, a laundry maid; the two live down the hall from the two chambermaids, Agnes and Effie. Effie’s betrothed was deported for his involvement in the Rebellion, and Mary explains to Grace that her family was also involved; her father died hiding in the woods and her mother died of grief.
Mary Whitney is finally introduced in this passage. Mary’s Radical family background, and her strong convictions about gender and class equality mark her as more assertive and politically vocal than Grace. Even at the time she is narrating to Dr. Jordan, Grace often makes qualifications about how transgressive Mary Whitney’s views were. Mary thus acts as a kind of counterpart to Grace, expressing her views unequivocally where Grace tends to more subtly subvert societal norms—many of which she actively ascribes to unabashedly.
Themes
Social Class and Propriety Theme Icon
Grace says that she “liked [Mary] at once.”  Mary takes Grace under her wing and teaches her about her duties as a maid. Grace describes Mary as “a fun-loving girl, and very mischievous and bold in her speech when we were alone.” She tells Dr. Jordan that it took her a while to become accustomed to Mary’s coarse language; Grace says she eventually “put it down to her being a native-born Canadian, as she did not have much respect for degree.” Grace recalls Mary’s daydreams: “If she had half a chance she would run away to the woods, and go about with a bow and arrow, and not have to pin up her hair or wear stays; and I could come with her.”
Mary’s dislike of the physical constraints society places on women (in the form of their clothing) represents a broader challenge to the confinement of women’s spheres based solely on their gender. In this way Mary also represents a kind of sexual liberation in her desire to reject society and return to nature. Though Grace does not explicitly say so, this passage might also be interpreted as evidence that Grace feels sexual attraction toward Mary.
Themes
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Social Class and Propriety Theme Icon
Mary helps Grace bathe and wash her clothes. The two then go shopping in Toronto to purchase materials to make Grace “a decent dress.” The next day, when a peddler named Jeremiah comes to the Parkinson house, Grace purchases thread and buttons from him. Jeremiah gives Grace an extra button in addition to the four she has purchased; “people of that kind,” Grace tells Dr. Jordan, “consider four an unlucky number, and odd numbers luckier than even ones.” He also tells Grace, “You are one of us.” Grace admits that she was confused by this, but decided that Jeremiah “meant that [she] too was homeless, and a wanderer.” Though the house feels “stale” after the excitement of Jeremiah’s visit, Grace’s dress turns out well and she finally looks “trim and respectable.”
This passage reflects Grace’s attraction to the way that clothes make her feel, which will become important later in the novel, when Grace takes the murdered Nancy’s clothes. Being dressed well gives Grace a sense of confidence and place, which is especially meaningful to her given the fact that she does feel like a wanderer. This passage is also important because it introduces Jeremiah the peddler, a character with whom Grace feels a deep, inexplicable bond, and the only man to whom she admits feeling some level of attraction.
Themes
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Social Class and Propriety Theme Icon
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