Alias Grace

Alias Grace

Alias Grace Chapter 38 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Grace continues with her story; it is not in quotation marks, so it is as if Grace is speaking directly to the reader. Grace says that McDermott later told her that, after he had fired upon her, he revived her with water and the two ate dinner together and toasted “the success of [their] venture.” Grace maintains that she “could not have acted so heartlessly” and calls McDermott “a great liar.”
Grace directly contradicts McDermott’s description of the night of the murders, and the reader is likely to believe Grace over McDermott, given that Grace has never felt a true sense of companionship or teamwork with McDermott. However, the very fact that the reader is biased in favor of Grace could be nothing more than evidence of Grace’s power as a storyteller.
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Grace recalls waking up on her bed with the door open and “the light […] already fading.” She says McDermott must have carried her upstairs because “if [she’d] walked in by [herself] [she] would have locked” the door. Her head aches and she falls asleep, awakening with the feeling that someone is in the room. McDermott is standing over Grace, and she begins to panic, thinking he might try to strangle her. Instead, he asks how she is feeling and sits down on the bed. He then tells Grace that she “had promised him [her]self in exchange for the killing of Nancy.” In narrating, Grace insists that she does not remember making such a promise and that she was convinced McDermott was “a madman,” twisting her words to use against her. McDermott was drunk at the time he came into her room, and Grace says she realized that having sex with him “was the only way to humour him.” She resolved to delay sleeping with him as long as possible, as she was convinced that “once [she’d] given in to him, he would consider [her] a whore” and would kill her.
Grace’s description of McDermott reveals him to be not only a misogynist, but also a sexual predator. Especially given the modern-day conversations about consent and sexual assault, it might be difficult for the reader to feel ethically comfortable dismissing Grace’s claims here out of hand. It seems not only plausible but indeed likely that Grace is telling the truth here, and that rather than seeing McDermott as a rapist, the public may have been more scandalized by and thus more interested in conceiving of Grace as McDermott did—as a manipulative flirt, and even an evil temptress.
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After Grace suggests that they go to “some other bed,” as her bed is very narrow, McDermott carries her to Mr. Kinnear’s room. Grace almost faints from fright when McDermott begins undressing her, but she recalls that “if [she] fainted [she] was as good as dead, with him in the state he was in.” She begins to sob, saying she can’t bear to have sex in a “dead man’s bed,” and McDermott loses his erection. He becomes angry and drags Grace down the hall, saying, “If you don’t like that bed […] I shall do it in Nancy’s, for you are as great a slut as she was.”
Grace’s determination to save herself from rape is both formidable and heartrending. McDermott’s insistence that Grace is “as a great a slut as Nancy” shows that he resorts to smearing women’s reputations when they are more powerful than he (Nancy) or do not sexually capitulate to him (Grace). It is difficult to see McDermott as anything other than a villain, but if the contrasting narratives of Grace and Dr. Jordan have proved anything, it is that everything is relative. It seems unlikely, but perhaps McDermott might seem a more sympathetic character if the reader were to hear him narrate his own story.
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In Nancy’s room, Grace sees that the bed is “all spattered with dark blood,”; a book lying in the bed is also covered in blood. McDermott says the book is something Mr. Kinnear was reading when he was shot. McDermott threw the book into Nancy’s bed “because Kinnear’s blood was on Nancy’s head, for if she had not been such a bloody great whore and shrew, all would have been different, and Mr. Kinnear needn’t have died.”
Again, McDermott demonstrates his misogyny by blaming Nancy for Mr. Kinnear’s murder. This shows how society codes female premarital sex as deviant, but deems male premarital sex normal. It seems to not even occur to McDermott to blame Nancy for her own murder—rather, it is as if McDermott seems not to care if Nancy is alive or dead.
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Discussing the bloody book causes McDermott to become more serious, and Grace seizes the opportunity to distract him from raping her by suggesting that they pack their things and leave. McDermott agrees and, Grace says, “in the end we ransacked the house.” Grace takes Nancy’s clothes, but leaves the dress Nancy had been sewing for herself. “I’d heard the dead would come back to complete what they had left undone,” she says, “and I didn’t want her missing it, and following after me. For by this time I was almost certain she was dead.”
Grace’s love of clothes yet again evokes her almost unwavering belief in the class hierarchy. The most notable part of this passage, however, is when Grace states that it was only at this point that she began to feel “almost certain” Nancy was dead. It is difficult to parse whether Grace is saying this to cover for the fact that she directly contributed to killing Nancy by strangling her, or whether she feels enough confusion about the situation and compassion toward Nancy that she wants to believe she’s still alive. Regardless, this moment seems to highlight that it is possible to deceive oneself through storytelling in much the same way that it’s possible to deceive others.
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Before leaving, Grace tidies the house, even emptying Nancy’s chamber pot, as she feels that leaving it full would be “somehow disrespectful.” She also puts on one of Nancy’s dresses and a bonnet, and even dabs rose water behind her ears, describing the smell as “a comfort of sorts.” While she is burning her own clothes, McDermott comes into the kitchen and says he is ready to leave. When Grace complains that she cannot find her blue flowered handkerchief, McDermott replies that it is “downstairs in the cellar, keeping the sun off Nancy’s neck; as [Grace] ought to remember, seeing as how [she herself] had pulled it tight and tied the knot.” Narrating, Grace says that she was shocked, but that “as it is dangerous to contradict mad people,” she told McDermott that she had merely forgotten.
Grace turns the charge that has so often been levied against her—madness—against McDermott in order to depict him as the villain. This shows Grace’s perceptiveness about the power of insanity as a buzzword in her society. This passage is also striking because Grace is so meticulous in her actions in the wake of the double murders, being sure to dress herself as a lady and to fulfill her duty to Nancy—as a servant? a friend? it’s difficult to tell—by emptying her chamber pot. Passages like this one make it seem possible that it will never fully be within the reader’s power to comprehend all of Grace’s motivations and actions.
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Grace and McDermott leave the house at eleven that night. McDermott starts talking about hiring servants of their own once he and Grace safely reach the States, but Grace keeps mum because she “[does] not intend to stay with him any more than a minute” after the two reach America. She recalls looking into the sky and seeing “only emptiness.” “This was more frightening than anything I could think of,” Grace recalls, “and I prayed silently to God to forgive my sins; but what if there was no God to forgive me?” Shortly thereafter, the sky fills up with stars.
Grace again wrestles with her religious beliefs. It is important to remember that Grace was barely sixteen at the time of the murders. Her sense of panic and her desperate attempt to reconcile her conflicting beliefs in a benevolent God and in the almost amoral concept of fate seems entirely understandable given her youth and the trauma she has just experienced.
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Grace begins to doze off; the last thing she remembers before falling asleep is “the feel of [McDermott] settling the shawl tenderly around [her] shoulders.” Grace wakes up as McDermott slams her to the ground and climbs on top of her, covering her mouth as she begins to scream. Grace goes quiet and as soon as McDermott removes his hand she orders him to get off of her. McDermott claims that Grace was the one who asked him to stop the wagon so she could urinate; when she climbed down, he says, she instead spread out her shawl and “invited him to join [her] on it like the hot bitch [she] was.” Grace says, “I knew I had done no such thing, having been sound asleep, and I said so.”
This is a crucial moment. The fact that Grace contradicts McDermott, even though he might respond by raping or killing her, shows how important her sense of her own sexual propriety is to her. She refuses to let McDermott misrepresent her in this regard. Regardless of her other more ambiguous characteristics, it is difficult not to admire Grace’s courage and conviction in this moment.
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McDermott becomes angry and holds Grace down by her hair, preparing to rape her. She bites him on the ear and he becomes so angry she thinks that “he might kill [her] there and then.” Instead, he calms down and helps Grace up, saying he will wait until they are married and that “he had just been testing [her].” He also comments that Grace “certainly [has] good strong teeth.” She says that this comment surprised her, but she “said nothing, as [she] was still all alone with him on an empty road, with many miles to go.”
McDermott’s bizarre comment about Grace’s teeth seems to testify to the animalistic side of Grace that revealed itself in Grace’s description of Mary Whitney’s scent. Furthermore, Grace’s self-defensive violence against him seems to excitd McDermott, which underscores yet again the way that men living in a patriarchal society are prone to linking sexual pleasure and the violent conquest of women.
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