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Alias Grace: the Life of a Prison Girl Story

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Individuals have their own way of understanding and achieving their own justice which develops into our whole lives, shaping each of us for who we are, as seen with Grace Marks. In Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood, Grace Marks displays this after being put in prison for murdering Mr. Kinnear and his housekeeper, as well as, romantic partner, Nancy Montgomery. However, she cannot recall memories of these events and it is not known if she is actually guilty of these murders or just innocent and is being blamed. With her time in jail, Grace has her own understanding of justice that develops as she seems to entertain people more than be right; Grace’s search for this justice is also seen through her sessions with Dr. Jordan which have an unusual conclusion, and lastly, her search is very beneficial to the text as a whole as it brings in the theme of consciousness and unconsciousness, because the lack of righteousness in her stories.

Grace, who has been in jail, since the age of 16, does not display whether she is guilty or innocent of the murders. Since the age of 16, Grace has been locked up in prison asylums and has been going back and forth between ones, until her memories came back to her. Once Dr. Jordan starts seeing her to help her with her memory, it is learned that Grace does not always want to be correct or right with what she is telling him, however, she wants to be a great entertainer and wants to say things that others want to hear, which is her understanding of justice. Instead of being right and telling the truth, she does what she can to entertain, especially with Dr. Jordan. When Dr. Jordan introduces himself and explains that Grace should speak to him about her past, Grace says, “Perhaps I will tell you lies” (41). Grace reveals an insight of her understanding of justice because she has been in jail for many years now, and is already used to the prison life. She does not feel the need to tell the truth about everything and her story, but perhaps, just entertain them with what Dr. Jordan and everyone else will think is the truth and would want to hear. This is one of the first clues that are shown to whether or not her stories are true, however, it still reveals her understanding of justice, and how her justice is seeing others be entertained by what she has to say.

When Grace starts telling Dr. Jordan about her past, he “is writing eagerly, as if his hand can scarcely keep up, and I have never seen him so animated before. It does my heart good to feel I can bring a little pleasure into a fellow-being’s life;” (281). This shows how Grace is more entertained in pleasuring and keeping Dr. Jordan happy from what she is thinking. This leads to her understanding of justice, where Grace thinks she can do what she wants to attain the justice that she wants. After being in jail for so long, there is a part of her that wants to get out, so she may just be pleasuring him with interesting stories, so it seems as if she is progressing with her mind, but then also, she may just be entertaining herself and Dr. Jordan, as she has already gotten used to prison life, and sees no reason for being let out. From what is seen, Grace focuses more on the entertainment part of her stories, even if they may not be true, instead of being more righteous, which contributes to what her understanding of justice is. Grace’s understanding of justice does take her places within the story and leads to an unusual result.

Grace’s search for justice develops during the sessions she has with Dr. Jordan, where she opens up to him about her past and stories that had occurred. The way her search for her justice is attained, however, is through lying and faking her identity, as she could have planned this idea all along, to help her get out of prison. When Grace is being hypnotized and reveals about the murders of Nancy and Mr. Kinnear, she says, “‘You’ve deceived yourselves! I am not Grace! Grace knew nothing about it!’” (401). At this moment, Grace reveals that it was not really her that killed Nancy and Mr. Kinnear, but it was her other alter personality, Mary Whitney, a friend of Grace’s, who had died from a bad abortion. This may have been an idea that was planned out by Grace, all along, in her search for justice because it would have been a way to be set free from prison easily because she would be known as mentally ill. Not only that, but this act also contributes to Grace’s search for justice because it shows her leaning to more of an entertaining act because of how everyone, including Jeremiah and Dr. Jordan, are shocked and want to know more about what had just happened.

After she is let out of the prison asylum and jail because of being so-called insane, she writes a letter to Dr. Jordan, in which she says, “I would not wish nay here to learn my true name; but I know my secrets are safe with Jeremiah, as his are safe with me” (456). She reveals that it seems as if she has lied more than what was expected, and that her real name may not even be true. This contributes to Grace’s understanding of justice because she used her entertainment and pleasure to get through jail and to be released, instead of being out the correct and righteous way, which is by being truthful. Not only was Grace in on this, but Jeremiah was, as well, leading to wonder if the hypnotization was real or not. Her search is eventually successful because with her use of pleasure and entertainment, she is able to entertain and please everyone in a way which everyone thinks she is telling the truth because they like what she is telling them, and is able to get out of jail, eventually. These acts lead to form the theme of the novel: Many lies can be told, and eventually it’s hard to tell the difference between truth and lie, and conscious and unconscious.

Throughout the novel, dreams are always mentioned and shared between Grace and Dr. Jordan, and so is Grace’s past, not knowing whether they are lies or the truth. This continues up until the end when Grace rights her letter to Dr. Jordan, where she reveals that not everything she said was the truth, and that she does have secrets. When Mary Whitney in Grace’s body says, “‘I told James to do it. I urged him to. I was there all along!’” Grace revealing that she has a alter ego personality is very significant to the work as a whole, because it leads to questions arising about whether or not this is a lie or truth, and if she is acting like this, to keep her entertainment up and to be able to get out of jail faster. This contributes to the theme because it is not known whether truths or lies are being told, and it once again reinforces how it is hard to keep up with what Grace is trying to hide and lie about now.

In her letter to Dr. Jordan, she says, “only God knows whether it would have been better or worse: and I have now done all the running away I have time for in this life” (456).This gives an insight of wondering whether or not Grace was pleasing others for her own benefit, or for the benefits of others, and if she was just trying to keep the truth from them. Grace, again, is also questioned on her innocence over the murders of Mr. Kinnear and Nancy. Some of the things she says leans her towards the guilty side, but it is still unknown which side she leans more toward. This is significant to the work as a whole because different interpretations can be made about what Grace is feeling and what opinions there are towards what she is saying through the mysterious and ominous mood the book gives off. From this, it is suggested that the quest for justice was a way for Grace to get out of jail in a way she would not have to give away too much of herself, and be able to have fun, as well.

Grace has her own understanding of justice as for herself, it is giving the people, including Dr. Jordan, what he wants to hear, instead of what he should be hearing, with entertainment. Her search for her justice is developed more and more with her sessions with Dr. Jordan as more clues are given away with what she’s saying and thinking, and how it gives off that some of the things that Grace is saying is untrue, or changed to make it more pleasurable to listen to. Lastly, this search contributes to the significance for the work and the theme as it gives a questionable and mysterious mood as it is unknown whether or not Grace is really innocent or guilty, and is just left upon us to answer that.

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