Alias Grace

Alias Grace


Margaret Atwood

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Alias Grace: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Grace is revived and scolded for her “hysterics,” since the doctor’s bag was actually full of calipers (head-measuring devices), not knives. Grace is dragged back to the Penitentiary and deposited in a cell, which she says is similar to the one she was held in before being sent to an asylum in Toronto, where she was sexually abused by a doctor named Dr. Bannerling. Alone in her cell, Grace falls asleep.
This passage underscores the way in which Grace’s society tends to dismiss women as overly emotional, rather than acknowledge their experiences. Grace is overwhelmed by the sight of the doctor because he is a reminder of the sexual abuse she has experienced, yet her reaction is interpreted as dramatic and irrational. This stands in stark contrast to the fact that the doctor has come to measure Grace’s head as part of the medical community’s genuine, if misguided, interest in mental illness. Despite a professed interest in Grace’s life as a “madwoman,” doctors like this one are not at all interested in validating her experiences. In fact, the man who abused Grace was himself a physician, which demonstrates the intense, even violently hypocritical views that Grace’s society holds toward women.
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Grace is held in solitary confinement for several days, during which time she thinks often of someone named Mary Whitney. Finally, Grace hears a knock at the door and invites the person in.
The fact that Grace uses her memories of Mary to keep her company while she is alone is a testament not only to the women’s friendship, but also to the power that memory can act as a comfort. This passage shows that memory does not always have to be fraught, as it often is for Grace; sometimes, it can be a distinctly positive force.
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