Alias Grace

Alias Grace

Alias Grace Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Grace moves forward to narrating the month of December at the Parkinson household. Her father sends one of Grace’s younger sisters to beg Grace for her wages; Grace gives her some money and never hears from her family again. Grace thoroughly enjoys Christmastime at the house. Misters Richard and George Parkinson come home from Harvard for the holidays; Mr. George stays on after catching a chill. He does not improve until February, by which point he decides to stay home and return to school in the fall term. Grace tells Dr. Jordan: “I am afraid he was very much indulged, not least by himself. For if the world treats you well, Sir, you come to believe you are deserving of it.”
Grace’s description of Christmas at the Alderman Parkinson house is noteworthy mainly because it subtly introduces the character of George Parkinson. Grace’s brief critique of the way that one’s social status can lead to a sense of entitlement will become crucial later on, when Grace discovers that George Parkinson is the father of Mary Whitney’s child. This moment is also important in Grace’s character development because it is one of the rare instances in which she offers an explicit critique of someone who is of a much higher class status than she. This is itself an indication of Grace’s deep resentment of George Parkinson.
Themes
Social Class and Propriety Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
“Real winter” sets in and Grace begins to notice something is different about Mary; “her smell had changed, from nutmegs to salt fish,” she says. When Grace discovers Mary collapsed by the outhouse, Mary finally reveals that she is pregnant. She refuses to tell Grace who the baby’s father is, but reveals that she is very upset with him, as he had promised to marry her, but has since gone back on his promise. By May, Mary is desperate to do something, as the housekeeper, Mrs. Honey, is becoming suspicious. Grace convinces Mary to re-petition the baby’s father for help; Mary does so, and is “angrier than she had ever been” when the father responds to her plea by giving her five dollars.
The fact that Grace clues in to Mary’s pregnancy through a change in Mary’s scent suggests an animalistic side to Grace’s personality. This contributes to Grace’s status as an almost mystical person, who is able to commune with deeper forces than other characters. This passage also reflects how harshly society punishes women who disobey the social code, which prohibits premarital sex. At the same time, the dismissive reaction of Mary’s lover shows that society is much more willing to overlook male sexual transgression than female transgression of the same kind.
Themes
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Social Class and Propriety Theme Icon
At a loss, Mary considers drowning herself, but instead arranges for an abortion. Before meeting with the “doctor,” she writes out a will that reads: “If I die, my things are to go to Grace Marks.” Grace accompanies Mary to and from the doctor’s house. Mary is in intense pain after the procedure, and Grace sleeps on the floor that night, allowing Mary to have the bed to herself. When Grace wakes in the morning, Mary is dead. Grace goes to Agnes, one of the chambermaids, sobbing. Agnes fetches Mrs. Honey, who in turn fetches Mrs. Alderman Parkinson. Mrs. Alderman Parkinson presses Grace about the identity of Mary’s lover, but Grace remains mum. To Dr. Jordan, she admits that she “had [her] own suspicions,” strongly hinting that Mr. George Parkinson is the father of Mary’s baby. Mrs. Alderman Parkinson decides that they will tell people Mary died of a fever. Grace does not mention the doctor from whom Mary received the abortion. To Dr. Jordan she says, “It is my true belief that it was the doctor that killed her with his knife; him and the gentleman between them.”
This passage is significant in several ways. First, the fact that Mary wills Grace her possessions likens their friendship to the intense bond that might exist between parent and child, or even between spouses. Furthermore, Mary’s will underscores the power of the written word, especially as one of the few ways that women can assert any ownership and agency over their material lives. Secondly, Mary’s death is important on a plot level because Grace feels incredibly guilty for having fallen asleep while Mary died and having forgotten to open a window—a parallel of the death of Grace’s mother. Thirdly, Grace’s firm belief that both the abortion doctor and “the gentleman” (George Parkinson) are at fault for Mary’s death represents a radical defiance of societal norms. In society’s view, Mary is a disgrace and is responsible for her own death. Grace challenges this narrative by assigning blame to the man that aborted Mary’s pregnancy and the one that impregnated her in the first place—a rhetorical move that directly links George Parkinson’s penis to the doctor’s knife, showing the inherent link between sex and violence in a society that does not allow women the freedom to explore and express their own sexuality.
Themes
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Social Class and Propriety Theme Icon
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
Justice and Religion Theme Icon
Agnes helps Grace prepare Mary’s body. Then Grace suddenly hears Mary’s voice whisper, Let me in. Grace panics, realizing that she has not opened the window. She tells Agnes she’s feeling ill and runs to open the window, thinking Mary’s voice must have actually said Let me out. When Mary’s body is prepared, the other servants come to see her, and Agnes tells the made-up story about Grace waking in bed next to Mary only to find her dead from a fever. Grace imagines what it would have been like to actually wake up next to her dead friend and, overwhelmed, she faints. “They said I lay like that for ten hours,” she tells Dr. Jordan. Grace then briefly awakened, disoriented and asking, “where Grace had gone.” She has to be restrained from running out of the house to search for Grace, who she says has “gone into the lake.” She then again falls unconscious, and when she awakens again, she remembers who she is. Grace tells Dr. Jordan that she has “no memory of anything [she] said or did during the time [she] was awake, between the two long sleeps.”
Grace’s “two long sleeps” are important on a plot level, as is the fact that she hears Mary’s voice saying, Let me in. Following the novel’s climax, in which it is revealed that Mary Whitney’s spirit has been possessing Grace, Grace’s actions during her sleep will function in retrospect as evidence of the truth of this spiritual possession. This, of course, raises the question of whether Grace is telling the truth about hearing Mary’s voice, as well as what happened when she was asleep. It seems impossible that Grace could have known she would at some point be hypnotized by Dr. DuPont and that she would have told Dr. Jordan this story as a way to lay the foundation for her claim of having been possessed. Yet Atwood leaves open the possibility that Grace may be fabricating this part—or any part—of her story.
Themes
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
Justice and Religion Theme Icon
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