Grace says that it is “almost thirty years to the day, since when not yet sixteen years of age, [she] first went up the long driveway to Mr. Kinnear’s.” She is sitting on her “own verandah in [her] own rocking chair,” looking at the flowers in front of her house. She says, “On such days I think, This is like Heaven. Although Heaven was not a place I ever used to think of myself as going.” Grace has been married to Jamie for almost a year, and she describes the house they share; she specifies that she vetoed Jamie’s desire to hire a maid, “prefer[ring] to do the work of the house [her]self.”
Grace’s description of her new life indicates that her greatest happiness comes from owning her own house, highlighting the importance of women being able to exert power in this way. Her insistence on acting as maid in her own house also shows how important her identity as a working girl continues to be, even now that she is a middle-aged woman. Grace’s moving, ambiguous statement that Heaven “was not” a place she considered open to her seems to hint that perhaps her mind has since changed. This is one of the first moments of the novel that Grace seems to be gentle with herself, allowing for the possibility of peace in her life to come.
Grace says that two months ago, in April, she saw an advertisement for a medium named Gerald Bridges and realized it was Jeremiah. She wound up passing him on the street and he winked at her. The encounter made her wonder what would have happened if she had accepted Jeremiah’s offer to run away with him. “Only God knows,” she says, “whether it would have been better or worse; and I have now done all the running away I have time for in this life.”
Grace’s meditations here seem to contradict her earlier fatalistic statements; she admits that things would have been different, for better or for worse, if she had run away with Jeremiah. To the last, Grace’s notions of religion, justice, and fate remain complicated and difficult to parse. Another noteworthy element here is Grace’s conviction that she has done “all the running away” she plans to for her life. This is a curious statement, since the only time Grace ran away in the strictest sense of the word is when she escaped with McDermott to the States after the murders. This claim thus raises the possibility that Grace considers other moments in her life—perhaps her emigration from Ireland, for example—as a kind of running away.
Grace says that “things go on very well” between her and her husband, but that she has something to reveal to Dr. Jordan, since she has “no close woman friend [she] can trust.” She says that sometimes Jamie holds her hand and says, “To think of the sufferings I have caused you.” He then prompts her to tell some part of her life story, and, Grace says, “the worse I make the coarse talk and the proddings of the keepers, the better he likes it. He listens to all of that like a child listening to a fairy tale, as if it is something wonderful, and then he begs me to tell him yet more.” This upsets Grace because she “would as soon forget about that portion of [her] life.” “Now that I come to think of it,” she says to Dr. Jordan, “you were as eager as Mr. Walsh is to hear about my sufferings and my hardships in life.” She says that, though she never understood what Dr. Jordan was “aiming at,” talking to him “did make [her] feel [she] was of some use in this world.”
This passage is difficult to interpret. The fact that Jamie compels Grace to consistently relive her trauma and sexual abuse, and that he finds these details arousing, shows that even the “good” male characters of this novel are guilty of exploiting women for their own sexual pleasure. Grace’s description of her forced storytelling for her new husband reads almost as a form of assault in itself. The reason this passage is so challenging is because Grace acknowledges that Dr. Jordan did essentially the same thing as Jamie—yet she took pleasure in seeing Dr. Jordan’s excited reaction to her stories. Perhaps this is because Dr. Jordan, unlike Jamie, was a complete outsider with regard to Grace’s life story, or perhaps Grace has a deep, inscrutable connection to Dr. Jordan, despite his flaws (a connection that mirrors the one she seems to have felt with McDermott). The fact that Grace is acutely aware and critical of the attempt by other (male) characters to exploit, fetishize, and commodify her pain makes it even more confusing as to why she excuses Dr. Jordan’s attempts to do the very same.
Grace adds that Jamie always begins to undress her after she finishes “a few stories of torment and misery,” asking, “Will you ever forgive me?” Grace admits that this annoys her. “The truth is,” she says, “that very few understand the truth about forgiveness. It is not the culprits who need to be forgiven; rather it is the victims, because they are the ones who cause all the trouble.” Grace insists that it would be “much better” if Jamie would forgive her, and she says she doesn’t feel “quite right” about forgiving him because she sees it as “telling a lie.” However, she says, “I suppose it isn’t the first lie I’ve told; but as Mary Whitney used to say, a little white lie such as the angels tell is a small price to pay for peace and quiet.” Grace says she thinks often of Mary; sometimes Grace even dreams she is back at Mr. Kinnear’s house, or in the penitentiary. Sitting on her verandah, she pinches herself—“but it remains true” that she is in her own home.
While difficult to fully understand, Grace’s notion of justice seems to suggest that she has internalized the idea that people (particularly women) who flout social codes deserve the punishment they receive. However, this seems at odds with Grace’s deep and lifelong grief over Mary Whitney’s death; does Grace really blame Mary for having died, instead of society for having culturally pressured Mary into aborting her out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Perhaps Grace’s complex view of forgiveness is significant because it reflects her overwhelming sense of grief at having lost all the female figures in her life that mattered to her: her mother, Mary, and Nancy. It seems that Grace cannot help but blame these women for leaving her alone in life, and this is why she has developed the conviction that victims rather than culprits need to be forgiven.
Grace says she has something else to tell Dr. Jordan that she has shared with no one else. She says that, though she will turn forty-six in a month, she suspects that she is pregnant—though she wonders if perhaps she actually has a tumor, like the one that killed her mother. Because she has such a strong aversion to doctors, she has decided not to go to one; instead she will wait for time to tell.
Grace’s possible pregnancy highlights the way that women’s bodies are sites of both life and of death in a way that men’s aren’t, and never can be. The fact that Grace is so scarred by her abuse at the hands of physicians that she isn’t able to know whether she is pregnant or terminally ill (like her mother) underscores how society denigrates and tries to destroy women—perhaps because of the very power that they innately possess.
Grace says that on the afternoons when she sits on her verandah she works on a quilt, the very first one she has ever made for herself. It is a Tree of Paradise quilt, and she thinks the singular tree is more fitting than the two trees in the Bible; she believes that “there was only one [tree], and that the Fruit of Life and the Fruit of Good and Evil were the same.” She says that she intends to embroider snakes into the quilt, because “without a snake or two, the main part of the story would be missing.” The three triangles of the Tree are meant to be made of two colors—“dark for the leaves and a lighter colour for the fruits”—but Grace says there will be three triangles in her tree that will be different. One will be made of Mary Whitney’s white petticoat, one of the yellow prison nightdress Grace took with her from the Penitentiary, and one of the pink and white floral dress that Nancy wore on the day Grace arrived at Mr. Kinnear’s and that Grace wore when she escaped on the ferry to Lewiston. The final line of the novel is: “And so we will all be together.”
The ending passage of the novel is moving because it shows how Grace continually challenges power. The fact that Grace essentially delivers her own radical interpretation of the Bible shows how sophisticated she is in her thinking and philosophizing, and the way she “writes” down this reinterpretation by weaving it into her quilt shows how women use the tools that they have available to them to resist and remake the dominant institutions that would keep them powerless. Grace’s quilt is also important because it shows how important Nancy is to her, despite the fact that Grace seems often to have hated her while she was alive (and possibly even murdered her). In this way Grace’s quilt also represents the collective solidarity of women, and the fact that women, especially those who would buck the social constraints imposed upon them, should—even must—band together if they hope to be free and happy.