The character of James McDermott in Alias Grace from LitCharts | The creators of SparkNotes
Alias Grace

Alias Grace

James McDermott Character Analysis

A hired hand at Mr. Kinnear’s who works mostly in the stable. McDermott is a few years older than Grace, and is also an Irish immigrant (though he is Catholic, while Grace is Protestant). Grace describes McDermott as glowering and surly; he consistently makes suggestive comments to her, and he is resentful of having to take orders from Nancy, because she is a woman. Though Grace is painted as McDermott’s lover at the trial, according to Grace herself, McDermott was “a madman” who, in addition to murdering Mr. Kinnear and Nancy, tried on more than one occasion to rape Grace. During his life, McDermott was known as a liar, a fact which makes many people, including Kenneth MacKenzie, skeptical of his account of the murders, in which he testifies that Grace strangled Nancy with a handkerchief. McDermott is sentenced to death, and he is furious when he learns that Grace’s sentence has been commuted. He dies by hanging.

James McDermott Quotes in Alias Grace

The Alias Grace quotes below are all either spoken by James McDermott or refer to James McDermott. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Anchor Books edition of Alias Grace published in 1997.
Epigraphs Quotes

I was horrified, and asked how could he do such a thing; and he said what did I mean, as I was wearing Nancy’s dress and bonnet myself. And I said it was not the same thing, and he said it was; and I said at least I had not taken the boots off a corpse.

Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 338
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 1 Quotes

So there I was, pretending not to watch, and there he was, pretending not to be watched; and you may see the very same thing, Sir, at any polite gathering of society ladies and gentlemen. There is a good deal that can be seen slantwise, especially by the ladies, who do not wish to be caught staring. They can also see through veils, and window curtains, and over the tops of fans; and it is a good thing they can see in this way, or they would never see much of anything. But those of us who do not have to be bothered with all the veils and fans manage to see a good deal more.

Related Characters: Grace Marks (speaker), Dr. Simon Jordan, James McDermott
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:
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James McDermott Character Timeline in Alias Grace

The timeline below shows where the character James McDermott appears in Alias Grace. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
Justice and Religion Theme Icon
...Kinnear and Montgomery murders. The poem reads, “Now Grace, she loved good Thomas Kinnear, / McDermott he loved Grace, / And ’twas these loves as I do tell / That brought... (full context)
Chapter 3
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
...know whether she is a murderess, but because they want to know if Grace and McDermott actually were lovers. (full context)
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
Justice and Religion Theme Icon
...has been told is writing a book. As she waits, she recalls the day James McDermott was hanged, saying, “There were many women and ladies there; everyone wanted to stare, they... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...holding an axe emerges from behind the house; Nancy orders the man, whom she calls McDermott, to show Grace to her room. Jamie trails along, asking questions that Grace is too... (full context)
Chapter 24
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...of the house. Grace particularly enjoys meeting Charley Horse in the stables. She also sees McDermott there; Nancy comments that “he is more surly than ever” and that it will be... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
...the horses and milks the cow. From the barn, she hears the loud noise of “McDermott, step-dancing on the bare boards of the loft,” which she finds very odd. Grace continues... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...her meal in the dining room with Mr. Kinnear, Grace has to “make do with McDermott.” She “set[s] to work to draw him out,” and he soon shares his life story.... (full context)
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McDermott starts to “make sheep’s eyes” at Grace, asking questions about her romantic life and making... (full context)
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...his half brother, who still lives in their native Scotland. While the women are working, McDermott begins “running along the top of the snake fence, agile as a squirrel.” Nancy tells... (full context)
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
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...alone when Mr. Kinnear is not at home. Grace asks if Nancy is afraid of McDermott, and Nancy replies that “from what she could make out from the look in his... (full context)
Chapter 27
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
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...sexual comments to Grace, and one of them gropes her. They also tease her about McDermott’s death by hanging, which Grace thinks is “bad luck […] for the dead don’t like... (full context)
Chapter 28
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
...the way home and invited them to dinner. A flustered Nancy asks Grace to find McDermott and tell him to kill a chicken. Grace cannot find McDermott, and when she returns... (full context)
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Social Class and Propriety Theme Icon
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
Justice and Religion Theme Icon
Later in the week McDermott tells Grace that Nancy has given him his one month’s notice. He claims he “[does]... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...her back; and if I’d held my tongue, my ears would have rung less often.” McDermott becomes “more brooding and vengeful” and tells Grace that the two of them should “join... (full context)
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Justice and Religion Theme Icon
Dr. Jordan interjects to say that in McDermott’s confession, he stated that it was Grace who wanted to murder Nancy and Mr. Kinnear,... (full context)
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
...Mr. Kinnear for the day. As Grace is leaving to go on an afternoon walk, McDermott insists on accompanying her, “birthday be damned.” Grace refuses his advances and flees the kitchen. (full context)
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...Mr. Kinnear on the verandah; he asks whom Grace was with in the orchard. Later, McDermott also accuses Grace of “rolling about in the grass, and kissing the errand boy.” Grace... (full context)
Chapter 30
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Social Class and Propriety Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
...fortnight. Mr. Kinnear and Nancy are both away from home, and Grace is alone with McDermott. Jeremiah the peddler visits the house and Grace is delighted to see him. “In a... (full context)
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McDermott angrily enters the room, causing Grace to wonder if he had been eavesdropping on her... (full context)
Chapter 31
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
...her legs and tucked into her apron. She hears someone enter and assumes it is McDermott; she tells him not to walk on her clean floor in his dirty boots. When... (full context)
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That night, Nancy and Mr. Kinnear dine together, while Grace eats in the kitchen with McDermott, wondering what Mr. Kinnear will do when he finds out about Nancy’s pregnancy. She hopes... (full context)
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Grace tells McDermott she is going to bed, but instead she listens at the parlor door, wanting to... (full context)
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
Justice and Religion Theme Icon
...feels two arms come around her from behind. She thinks it might be Jeremiah, or McDermott, or Mr. Kinnear, but then she realizes, it is “another man, someone I knew well... (full context)
Chapter 33
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
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...leave, but she can’t remember if she cried behind the kitchen door afterwards, or if McDermott took her in his arms to comfort her. She says “surely” she did not say... (full context)
Chapter 35
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
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...beau, Grace, come and kiss him goodbye.” Simon asks if Mr. Kinnear was referring to McDermott, and Grace icily corrects him, saying Mr. Kinnear was referring to Charley Horse. Simon then... (full context)
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
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Grace says that Nancy informed both her and McDermott that they were to leave in two days’ time; she then left to go to... (full context)
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Social Class and Propriety Theme Icon
Grace says that Nancy returned from her friend’s house and dined with Grace and McDermott. Nancy and Grace then went to bed together, with Grace making sure to lock the... (full context)
Chapter 36
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...left the kitchen again, this time to milk the cow. When she returned she found McDermott. She asked if he planned to kill Nancy that morning, and he assented. Grace said,... (full context)
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
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McDermott left the kitchen and Grace heard him pick up the axe. She says she could... (full context)
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Justice and Religion Theme Icon
...presses Grace about the many details listed in her confession—such as her saying she witnessed McDermott drag Nancy by her hair. Distressed, Grace says that this is what her lawyer, Mr.... (full context)
Gender, Ownership, and Power Theme Icon
...was foolish, as I was already outside.” Mr. Kinnear arrived home then and went inside. McDermott cornered Grace and extracted a promise from her that she would help him kill Mr.... (full context)
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
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...did, and when she returned to the kitchen after delivering Mr. Kinnear’s food, she found McDermott, who said he would kill Mr. Kinnear now. Grace asked him to “wait till it... (full context)
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
...in the evening, Mr. Kinnear came downstairs for dinner and was very worried about Nancy. McDermott asked Grace to call Mr. Kinnear into the kitchen so he could “shoot him on... (full context)
Chapter 38
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Storytelling and Power Theme Icon
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
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Grace and McDermott leave the house at eleven that night. McDermott starts talking about hiring servants of their... (full context)
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
Truth, Memory, and Madness Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
Female Sexuality and the Nature of Women Theme Icon
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McDermott becomes angry and holds Grace down by her hair, preparing to rape her. She bites... (full context)
Chapter 39
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Grace and McDermott arrive in Toronto around five in the morning, and McDermott insists on breakfasting at the... (full context)
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Grace convinces McDermott to change his clothes and she does the same. The moment he leaves to shave,... (full context)
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Grace and McDermott board the ferry with Charley Horse, whom they have taken with them in their escape.... (full context)
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The ferry lands in New York State. While on the boat, McDermott had attempted to sell Charley Horse and the wagon; as a result, “the Customs Officer... (full context)
Chapter 43
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Grace is arrested first, followed by McDermott. As the two are transported back across Lake Ontario to Canada, McDermott insists that Mr.... (full context)
Chapter 45
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...out how he managed to save Grace from the death sentence. MacKenzie explains that the Grace-McDermott case was dumped into his lap by a colleague who said, “Everyone knows you’ll lose,... (full context)
Chapter 48
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Simon persuades DuPont to ask Grace whether she had relations with McDermott; it is “the one thing he most wants to know,” he realizes. Grace laughs, but... (full context)