Alias Grace

Alias Grace


Margaret Atwood

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Alias Grace: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

This chapter is made up of letters. The first is to Dr. Simon Jordan from a Dr. Joseph Workman, superintendent of the asylum in Toronto. Dr. Workman tells Simon that he should contact a Dr. Samuel Bannerling for information about Grace Marks. Dr. Workman was appointed to his post at the asylum only a few weeks before Grace’s fifteen-month stay (1852-1853) ended and she was returned to the penitentiary in Kingston. Dr. Workman also offers Simon some tips for the private asylum he one day hopes to open.
Dr. Workman is a minor character, but his account of Grace, whom he compassionately describes in this letter as industrious and kind, will stand in direct contrast to the evil Dr. Bannerling’s descriptions of her later in the novel. The conflicting accounts of Grace given by the doctors who have attended her paint a complex portrait of Grace’s relative “sanity” and problematize the question of whether (in)sanity can ever be accurately assessed, especially when many of the people working in the mental health system are corrupt.
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The second letter is to Simon from his ailing mother, Constance Jordan. Mrs. Jordan laments her son’s line of work, saying, “No one in the Family has ever concerned himself with Lunatics before.” She also strongly hints that she would like Simon to marry a woman named Faith Cartwright.
This letter introduces Simon’s mother as a money-oriented woman with tunnel vision about arranging an advantageous marriage for her son. Mrs. Jordan’s derision of Simon’s line of work also speaks to the entrenched class values in this society, showing how those who are mentally unstable are inherently considered to be a lower class of person by people like Mrs. Jordan.
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The third letter is from Simon to his friend Dr. Edward Murchie. Simon explains that he is working on behalf of a Reverend Verringer, to whom he was recommended by someone named Dr. Binswanger. Simon describes his lodgings in Kingston, at the home of a Major C. D. Humphrey. Simon tells his friend that his task will not be easy, “as the gentle Grace, having been hardened in the fire now for some fifteen years, will be a very hard nut to crack.”
Aside from providing details about Simon’s work in Kingston, this letter is important because of the insight it provides into how Simon conceptualizes his work with Grace. He compares her to a physical object, a metaphor which implies that the effort to recover Grace’s memory will be a violent one that will leave her seriously damaged. Simon is not aware of the inherent violence of his language, but it will continue to manifest itself throughout the novel, and his feelings about how “gentle” Grace is will continue to evolve, as he finds himself wishing that Grace would be weaker and more dependent on him.
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