Alias Grace

Alias Grace

Alias Grace Chapter 36 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Grace tells Simon that she woke up at dawn that Saturday to the sound of a rooster crowing. She says that she thought, “Soon you will be a carcass”; she tells Simon that she was thinking about both the rooster and Nancy. Though she admits this sounds like an “odd” thought, she “wish[es] to relate everything that happened to [her], and those were the thoughts [she] had.” As she was getting dressed, Grace noticed that her face in the mirror looked “rounder and whiter, with two great startled staring eyes”; she tells Simon, “I didn’t wish to look at it.” She went into the kitchen, opened the windows, and cleared the dinner plates from the previous night, taking them into the scullery. When she returned to the kitchen, she found it covered in silver light; she tells Simon, “I knew it was because God had come into the house and this was the silver that covered Heaven.”
Many aspects of this passage are strange and difficult to interpret. The detached, dispassionate way Grace claims to have thought about Nancy on the day of her murder seems to work against Grace regarding the question of her guilt. The fact that she expresses these strange thoughts about Nancy is complicated by Grace’s claim that she is committed to telling the whole truth. Perhaps she has only shared her thoughts about Nancy in order to be able to share this statement of her commitment of truth, as a way to make herself seem credible. As Grace approaches her narration of the actual murders, it becomes more and more difficult to interpret her story and her motives. This passage is also striking because of the appearance of God. Grace does not explicitly state why she thinks God visited the Kinnear household, but her depiction of Him as a passive, impartial light seems consistent with her deep sense of fate and predestination.
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Grace left the kitchen again, this time to milk the cow. When she returned she found McDermott. She asked if he planned to kill Nancy that morning, and he assented. Grace said, “Surely you cannot bring yourself to do such a wicked thing,” which McDermott interpreted as a deliberate insult to his manhood. Exasperated, Grace replied that McDermott should not kill Nancy in the room because it would “make the floor all bloody.” Grace tells Simon that “it was a foolish thing to say,” but that she couldn’t help but think of the carpet in Nancy’s room, as it was her job to clean it. She says, “I’d never tried to get blood out of a carpet but I’d got it out of other things, and it is not a task to be sneezed at.”
Grace’s statement about McDermott bloodying the floor by killing Nancy is darkly humorous in its irony and almost stubborn practicality. At the same time, it is deeply disturbing. Grace herself seems baffled by the fact that this was her reaction to McDermott’s assertion that he would kill Nancy. Regardless of what else Grace’s statement says about her (im)morality or her relationship to Nancy, it highlights the essential role that Grace’s status as a servant plays in the way she interprets her world.
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McDermott left the kitchen and Grace heard him pick up the axe. She says she could not think what to do, so she went out to the garden to pick chives for the breakfast Nancy had ordered. She tried to pray, but says she could feel God’s “cold breath” and could “hear the beating of his dark wings, inside [her] heart.” She says she then heard “a dull sound” from the house, and that she “can remember no more for a time.”
While in the garden, Grace experiences the conviction that God is still in the Kinnear house—not only where she saw him in the kitchen this morning but also in Nancy, McDermott, and “in the axe too.” In this way, Grace is framing her sense of powerlessness on the day of the murder in religious terms, as if to act in defense of Nancy might somehow have controverted the will of God. This is an odd claim, and Grace does little to explain it. It is implied that the “dull sound” Grace hears is McDermott striking Nancy with the axe, but Grace never confirms this, and, as always, it is difficult to determine whether her claim that she can’t remember the succeeding events is trustworthy.
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Simon presses Grace about the many details listed in her confession—such as her saying she witnessed McDermott drag Nancy by her hair. Distressed, Grace says that this is what her lawyer, Mr. MacKenzie, told her to say in order “to save [her] own life.” She admits that the handkerchief used to strangle Nancy was hers, but says she does not remember giving it to McDermott. Simon presses further, asking Grace if she recalls “wanting to steal the gold earrings off [Nancy’s] corpse,” as McDermott said she did. Grace says, “I won’t say I didn’t think of it later, when we were packing up; but having a thought is not the same as doing it. If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.”
The fact that the story Grace is now telling matches neither her own confession nor McDermott’s highlights the fact that the “truth,” which is supposedly objective, is often based entirely on people’s memories, which are inherently subjective. Grace’s point about people being hanged for their thoughts is important because it emphasizes the fact that there is an aspect of justice that is fundamentally arbitrary—everyone has thought something that makes them deserved to be hanged, Grace says, which means that there is inherently a sort of randomness in who actually does get hanged. It is up to the reader to decide whether Grace’s account of justice—which conveniently allows her to abdicate responsibility for her actions—is an acceptable one.
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Simon asks Grace what the next thing she can remember is. Grace says she found herself standing by the flowerbeds at the front of the house. She says, “I was thinking, I must open the window; but that was foolish, as I was already outside.” Mr. Kinnear arrived home then and went inside. McDermott cornered Grace and extracted a promise from her that she would help him kill Mr. Kinnear; “I did say I would”; Grace tells Simon, “for if not, I could see by his eyes he would have killed me as well.”
It is important to note that Grace claims she cannot remember the details of Nancy’s murder, yet she doesn’t hesitate to share her memory of Mr. Kinnear’s murder. This could be interpreted as evidence that Grace was complicit in Nancy’s murder in a way she does not want to admit. (Though if the reader accepts the idea that Grace has been possessed by Mary Whitney, Grace’s lack of memory at this point makes sense.)
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Grace went into the kitchen to carry on her daily duties, and when Mr. Kinnear came in to ask after Nancy, Grace told him “she had gone to town in the stagecoach.” Mr. Kinnear was confused but not concerned, and he asked Grace to prepare his breakfast. She did, and when she returned to the kitchen after delivering Mr. Kinnear’s food, she found McDermott, who said he would kill Mr. Kinnear now. Grace asked him to “wait till it is dark,” but McDermott was compelled to wait regardless, Grace says, as Mr. Kinnear took a nap after eating and “even [McDermott] was not up to the shooting of a sleeping man.” Grace says McDermott stuck “as close as glue” to her all day, and though he was “cursing a good deal,” she “did not object to it, being afraid.”
Again, Grace’s reasoning for why she did not stand up to McDermott seem reasonable, so it is difficult to determine whether she is telling the truth in insisting that she did not of her own will want Mr. Kinnear dead. The most important part of this passage is the fact that McDermott was, according to Grace, not immoral enough to have shot a sleeping man. This stands in startling contrast to the fact that McDermott actively wanted to kill Nancy while she was sleeping. This contrast suggests that because she is a woman, McDermott seems to think Nancy does not deserve the dignity that would be afforded her if he challenged her while she was conscious.
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At seven in the evening, Mr. Kinnear came downstairs for dinner and was very worried about Nancy. McDermott asked Grace to call Mr. Kinnear into the kitchen so he could “shoot him on the stone floor,” but Grace refused and left the house to do some washing, wanting “nothing to do with it.” From across the courtyard she heard the sound of a gun. She ran to back to the kitchen and “saw Mr. Kinnear lying dead on the floor, and McDermott standing over him.” McDermott screamed at Grace to open the trapdoor, which she eventually did; McDermott threw Mr. Kinnear’s body down the stairs. Grace was so terrified that she ran out the front door of the house. McDermott ran after her and fired at her with the gun, causing Grace to faint. Grace says that is “all [she] can remember” until “much later in the evening.”
Grace’s amnesia again seems convenient, as she has managed to avoid accounting for the fact that Nancy’s body was found strangled by her handkerchief. However, as the reader later learns, evidence found at the scene of the murders seems to confirm Grace’s claim that she was shot at by McDermott. Again and again, the reader’s trust in Grace is challenged by the complexities of her story and her motives.
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Simon tells Grace that, according to Jamie Walsh’s testimony, Grace was standing by the pump at the yard at eight o’clock in the evening, looking “well, and in good spirits” and “better dressed than usual,” implying that Grace was wearing Nancy’s stockings. Grace dejectedly insists that the stockings were her own, and that “there is nothing [she] can do about what other people say.” Simon “feels a tender pity” for Grace and tells her they can continue the story tomorrow. Grace agrees and says: “It would be a great relief to me, to know the whole truth at last.”
Grace’s despairing statement that she can’t change what people say about her speaks to the powerful way in which her story has been appropriated by other people, such that her actual version of events is of less value than popular belief about the murders. Her claim that she, like Dr. Jordan, only wants to know the truth about the murders is yet another example of a complex statement that makes Grace an opaque character; it is difficult to tell if she is being genuine, or if she is, like some people have described her, a talented actress. The fact that the reader has seen how grossly prejudiced and hypocritical people like Bannerling have been in their assessment of Grace might make it difficult to believe that Grace could have fabricated her amnesia, yet Atwood never explicitly closes down this possibility.
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