Grace is sewing in the Governor’s house. She notes how, on days that she goes to the Governor’s house, she is escorted by a pair of guards who sexually harass her, making hideous comments, such as when they say that it’s best to have sex with a drunk woman—“out stone cold is best, then you don’t have to listen to them.” Sometimes Grace is able to channel Mary Whitney and say something biting to back to the guards. Grace is no longer allowed “the run of the house,” because the Governor’s wife is worried she will have another fainting fit. Instead she helps the laundress, Clarrie.
This passage highlights the appalling sexual harassment that Grace faces on an almost everyday basis. The guards’ comments are an extreme form of society’s widely-held belief that women should be largely silent and that their sexuality is not their own, but rather exists for the benefit of and at the whim of men. Grace’s attempts to channel Mary Whitney’s fiery personality also foreground the formative bond that Grace has with Mary, which will take on a significant role as the novel unfolds.
Dr. Jordan arrives to speak with Grace. Grace notes, “The door must be kept open at all times because there cannot be even a suspicion, no impropriety behind closed doors; how comical if they only knew what goes on every day during my walk here.” Grace says that during Dr. Jordan’s first two visits she has not talked much, because she hasn’t conversed with someone in the past fifteen years of her imprisonment. Instead, Dr. Jordan has talked, telling Grace about how he grew up and about the young women who used to work in his father’s mills. Grace saddens at the thought that she will never marry or have children, so she changes the subject.
Grace is pointing out the hypocrisy inherent in society’s treatment of women. When Grace is in the Governor’s house, acting as a sort of prop, her safety matters; however, when she is merely a woman on the street (even one who is still nominally in state custody), the fact that she is being sexually harassed is considered insignificant. This passage is also important because it is one of a few rare moments that Grace expresses sadness over the course her life has taken. She genuinely regrets the fact that she will never have a family of her own, which makes her a more empathetic character.
Eventually, Grace becomes comfortable talking to Dr. Jordan, and enjoys the feeling of watching him take notes, “as if hundreds of butterflies have settled all over [her] face, and are softly opening and closing their wings.” However, Grace says, there is a feeling underneath this one, as of a peach being torn open, “and not even torn open, but too ripe and splitting open of its own accord. And inside the peach there’s a stone.”
Speaking to Dr. Jordan, after so many years of not having a companion to converse with, gives Grace a feeling of aliveness that is almost painful in its intensity. The peach imagery implies that not being able to tell her story has left Grace with a feeling of bursting, and that there is relief but also intense pain in finally being able to share her story.