Alias Grace

Alias Grace

Alias Grace Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Simon leaves the Governor’s house, shaken by Grace’s story. He reflects that, though he has seen dead women as part of his medical training, “He has never caught them, as it were, in the act. This Mary Whitney, not yet—what? Seventeen? A young girl. Deplorable! He would like to wash his hands.” Simon realizes he has stayed longer than normal at the Governor’s house, and has half an hour before he is due at Reverend Verringer’s house for dinner. He thinks about his medical training in London, where he learned that “Those who felt too deeply for the patient’s suffering were the ones in whose fingers the knife slipped.”
Simon’s reflection on Grace’s story shows that he has missed the point, and further highlights the fact that Simon has completely bought into the societal notion that female sexuality is taboo, dangerous, and even inherently grotesque. This is ironic, given the fact that Simon frequently spends his time indulging in his own graphic sexual fantasies about women. The fact that Simon feels so emotionally touched by Grace’s story—even if his exact emotional response makes him seem more of an unsympathetic character—is important because it speaks to Grace’s power as a narrator.
Themes
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Simon spots Mrs. Humphrey and “wonders why she insists on dressing quite so much like a widow.” He wanders to the lakeshore, recalling a childhood memory: he’d snuck into the room of one of his family’s servants, and she had caught him “fondling one of her shifts.” Simon and the girl had then kissed, the first time Simon kissed anyone. The memory of these “more innocent days” restores Simon’s spirits.
Simon’s memory of his first sexual experience highlights his sense of entitlement. Not only did he enter his servant’s room and rifle through her intimate garments, but he also felt no qualms about kissing one of his family’s employees. This memory is important because Simon recalls the encounter as consensual—in fact, he remembers the servant trying to undress him—but his previous depictions of women may cause the reader to question whether Simon is accurately recalling the event.
Themes
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
Related Quotes
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Simon arrives at the Reverend’s house and the two men discuss Simon’s progress with Grace. Simon shares that he has read Susanna Moodie’s account of Grace and would like to meet with her. The Reverend advises Simon against a visit, saying that Mrs. Moodie, “like [her] sex in general,” has a tendency to elaborate, and likely embellished much of her account. He counsels Simon to instead meet with Grace’s lawyer, Kenneth MacKenzie, who is now working in Toronto and “has a sound head on his shoulders.”
This passage is significant because it reflects how dismissive this society is of women authors. The Reverend’s claim that Mrs. Moodie fabricated the details of her encounters with Grace will later become ironic when Simon discovers that it was actually Mr. MacKenzie who propagated false, sensational details of Grace’s story.
Themes
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
The men sit down to dinner, joined by the Governor’s wife and Miss Lydia, who Simon thinks looks like “a confection.” He privately thinks that “she should be on the platter, instead of the fish.” The Governor’s wife and the Reverend attempt to convince Simon to give a lecture at one of the Governor’s wife’s Tuesday meetings. Her reluctantly agrees, swayed by Lydia’s “admiration” and feeling like “he’s been ambushed by a flowering shrub.”
Yet again, Simon conceives of a woman in less than human terms, picturing Lydia as an edible confection and as an entrapping plant. He agrees to speak at the Governor’s wife’s circle because Lydia encourages him, but he resents her for the power she holds over him, further demonstrating that Simon does not like when women influence his decisions or actions.
Themes
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
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That night Simon dreams of being wrapped in a large sheet, which he then realizes is actually “the long fragrant hair of an unseen woman” wrapping around his neck and choking him. He awakens, remembering the dream as “painful and almost unbearably erotic.”
Simon’s dream provides important insight into the way that Simon himself links sex and violence. While later moments in the novel might suggest that Simon has particular sexual fetishes that involve bondage, it also seems plausible that Simon’s obsession with pain and violence in a sexual context exceeds a normal variation of sexual preference. Though Simon is the one being suffocated in his dream, most of Simon’s later fantasies involve him exerting violent (usually nonconsensual) control over a woman. This suggests that instead of having a harmless fetish, Simon might actually be a dangerous, even predatory, figure.
Themes
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon