Flowers in Alias Grace are directly related to women’s deaths. Grace has a recurring hallucination of a bloody Nancy Montgomery exploding into red flower petals. Grace’s mother’s teapot, which is covered in a flowered pattern, shatters on the day she dies, and Grace believes that her mother’s spirit destroyed the teapot as a kind of revenge. Finally, Mary Whitney’s handkerchief—the one which Grace may or may not have used to strangle Nancy—is decorated with blue “love-in-a-mist” flowers. These three women (Nancy, Mary, and her mother) are the three most important female figures in Grace’s life, and the fact that they are all linked to flower imagery suggests something important about the power of women. Flowers, because they are biologically linked to fruit and pollination, are a symbol of life; similarly, women, because of their ability to bear children, are often images of fertility. However, the role of flowers in this novel suggests that women have not only the power to create life, but also to embody death. Flowers, which bloom and then die, show that women can be vessels of both life and death. Grace makes a similar statement toward the end of the novel, when she discusses her possible pregnancy, saying that “it is strange to know you carry within yourself either a life or a death, but not to know which one.” The flower imagery in the novel suggests that, on some level, all women embody this dichotomy. This allows women to transcend the role of life-sustaining child bearers, imbuing them with a far greater and darker power.
The idea that flowers are linked toward women’s power is supported by the fact that flowers remain mysterious to male characters in the novel. For example, Dr. Jordan, when drafting a letter to his mother, realizes “he has never known much about flowers.” This phrase takes on added significance due to the way flower imagery operates elsewhere in the text, suggesting that women are privy to an exclusive and deepened understanding of life and death which does not extend to men.
Flowers Quotes in Alias Grace
All the same, Murderess is a strong word to have attached to you. It has a smell to it, that word—musky and oppressive, like dead flowers in a vase. Sometimes at night I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt across the floor.
Murderer is merely brutal. It’s like a hammer, or a lump of metal. I would rather be a murderess than a murderer, if those are the only choices.
It’s dark as a stone in this room, and hot as a roasting heart; if you stare into the darkness with your eyes open you are sure to see something after a time. I hope it will not be flowers. But this is the time they like to grow, the red flowers, the shining red peonies which are like satin, which are like splashes of paint. The soil for them is emptiness, it is empty space and silence. I whisper, Talk to me; because I would rather have talking than the slow gardening that takes place in silence, with the red satin petals dripping down the wall.