Thursday, 30 August 2007

"Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood": Doctor Simon Jordan

To address the Assessment Objectives think about how themes are expressed through characters

Doctor Simon Jordan

His background
He is from a privileged background and he went to Harvard P.152

Yet money is an issue. Simon has money but he has to be careful as it seems a business venture of his father’s did not work out. His mother not only wants him to find a wife, she wants him to succeed financially. (See the end of the letter from Simon’s mother on how she quotes his father on money, “ it is a substance which does not grow on trees.” p. 339

His mother wants to see him “settled” and in a “home” of his own with wife with a “sound mind and healthy body” and suggests Mrs Cartwright’s daughter to him, amongst others. p.406

Simon has a long history of preferring prostitutes as they would not hold any claim on him in terms of responsibility.

Jordan's interest in doctors/medicine/ research/ hidden knowledge
As a doctor, women “of the better classes” are “drawn” to him, “married ladies especially, with blameless reputations. They seemed drawn to him as if he possessed some priceless but infernal treasure”. p.94

He wants to “reform” mental institutions. When he gives a speech at the Governor’s wife’s social meeting he “began with a pleas for the reform of mental asylums”. p.346

Simon’s Speech ( Ch. 34)
Dr. Jordan to the Governor’s wife reform group: “The nineteenth century, he concluded, would be the study of the Mind”. (p.348) Jordan is interested in “the investigation of dreams as a key to diagnosis, and their relation to amnesia, to which he himself hoped in time to make a modest contribution. p. 348

He wants to find out “How to measure the effects of shock” . . . and “How to diagnose amnesias with no discernible manifestations . . .” p.347
(Quite ironic given what happens to Simon later in the novel!)

“As the eminent French philosopher and scientist Maine de Biran had said, there was an inner New World to be discovered, for which one must “plunge into the subterranean caverns of the soul”. p. 348

“The nineteenth century, he concluded, would be the study of the Mind . . .” p. 348

Simon is interested in doctors/medicine/ research/ hidden knowledge
As a doctor, women “of the better classes” are “drawn” to him, “married ladies especially, with blameless reputations. They seemed drawn to him as if he possessed some priceless but infernal treasure”. p.94

“It was knowledge that they craved; yet they could not admit to craving it, because it was forbidden knowledge” p. 94 (The Tree of Knowledge is linked with this perhaps.)

Ultimately he fails to see through his professional relationship with Grace and he never builds his much vaunted clinic. Otherwise he lacks direction and purpose

“Once he is with Grace, things are a little better, as he can still delude himself by flourishing his own sense of purpose. Grace at least represents to him some goal or accomplishment.” (p. 338) (Simon is relieved to be away from Mrs Humphries and is feeling more and more entrapped.)

Simon realises that Grace is withholding part of what she knows and deliberately forgetful.

“Grace’s will is of the negative female variety – she can deny and reject much more easily than she can affirm or accept. Somewhere within herself – he’s seen it, if only for a moment, that conscious, even cunning look in the corner of her eye – she knows she’s concealing something from him. As she stitches away at her sewing, outwardly calm as a marble Madonna, she is all the while exerting her passive strength against him. A prison does not only lock its inmates inside, it keeps all others out. Her strongest prison is of her own construction.”

“Some days he would like to slap her. The temptation is almost overwhelming”. p. 421 (Simon glimpses behind Grace’s outward façade.)

Dr Jordan begins strongly but fades in the novel. He loses energy and the audience’s empathy to Grace:

“The trouble is that the more she remembers, the more she relates, the more difficulty he himself is having. He can’t seem to keep track of the pieces. It’s as if she’s drawing his energy out of him – using his own mental forces to materialize the figures in her story, as the mediums are said to do during their trances.” p. 338 (This is not the first time that Grace is considered to be naturally inclined to be a medium. Jeremiah said so and Grace becomes the subject of the medium, Du Pont (Jeremiah).

He has a tendency towards fantasy and the imagination
He imagines the Reverend Verringer wrongly as he waits to meet him:

“He’s not looking forward to it: the man has studied in England, and is bound to himself airs. There is no fool like an educated fool, and Simon will have to trot out his own European credentials”. p. 83.

Dr. Jordan thinks that “Verringer is in love with Grace Marks! Hence his indignation, his fervour, his assiduousness . . .Does he wish to winkle her out of jail, vindicated as a spotless innocent, and then marry her himself? She is still a good-looking woman, and would be abjectly grateful, abject gratitude in a wife being, no doubt, a prime commodity on Verringer’s spiritual exchange”. p.91 (Jordan maybe somewhat cynical here).

Simon recalls Bellini’s Opera from his youth, “Sonnambula”: a simple and chaste village girl, Amina, is found asleep in the count’s bedroom, having walked there unconsciously; her fiancé and the villagers denounce her as a whore”. She is later seen sleepwalking “across a perilous bridge which collapses behind her into the rushing stream, her innocence is proven beyond a doubt and she awakes to restored happiness”. ( p. 373. The parallels here with Grace, Simon, etc are obvious. The passage also suggests wish fulfilment on Simon’s part, too.) As “Amina” is also “a crude anagram for “anima”. Simon wonders whether the soul may be unconscious and “who” may be doing the walking! Again, wish fulfilment, possibly in which Simon sees himself as “the count”.

On Simon’s imagination, fantasies and animalism
(When Mrs Humphries first collapses and is lifted by Simon to his bed)
He is “aroused by the sight of Mrs Humphries, “ a helpless woman extended upon his tumbled bed” in a semi state of dress.

The narrator“He has always been curious about these manifestations of the imagination as he has been able to observe them in himself. Where do they come from? If they occur in him, they must occur as well in the majority of men. . . he cannot always control such pictures. The difference between a civilized man and a barbarous fiend – a madman, say – lies, perhaps, merely in a thin veneer of willed self restraint. “ p. 163
(Third person)

In Chapter 32 Simon considers Mrs Humphries’ body as “His imagination runs . . . In reality this woman does not attract him: such images arrive unsummoned” p. 336 (Simon likes sex but knows that Mrs Humphries is offers sexual release rather than a meaningful relationship.)

His relationship with her is based on lust and sexual self-gratification. p. 424

“He’s driven by what feels like uncontrollable desire.” p. 425

It could be argued that in his relationship with Mrs Humphreys Simon shows another side to himself – a split personality

“Words of passion and burning love, of how he cannot resist her, which – strange to say – he actually believes at the time. During the day, Rachel is a burden, an encumbrance, and he wishes to be rid of her; but at night she’s an altogether different person, and so is he . . . He’s driven by what heels like uncontrollable desire; but apart from that – apart from himself, at these times, as the sheets toss like waves, . . . another part of himself stands with folded arms, fully clothed, merely curious, merely observing. How far, exactly, will he go? How far in? p. 425-6 (This is a good passage to use as evidence to suggest the double-sidedness of Simon’s personality. Like Grace, there is a secret side whom no-one sees – except the narrator and by extension, the readers. Remember also that Simon later develops amnesia after his injuries in the American Civil War; his later personality can only catch glimpses of his earlier one. )

His method and one used by Atwood’s other books too: the association of Ideas
“I have begun . . .with a method based on suggestion, and the association of ideas. I am attempting , gently and by degrees, to re-establish the chain of thought, which was broken”.
p. 97 (The apple and then other fruits and vegetables after his first meeting with Grace).

My object is to wake the part of her mind that lies dormant (On Grace) p. 153.

The significance of Simon’s Dreams
Sexuality and forbidden relationships
He reverts to childhood and dreams of the “secret world” of the maids in the “attic passageway” of his house; “the big house they had before his father’s failure and death”. p. 159

While dreaming “Simon is in the upstairs corridor again, in the attic, where the maids live”. He then dreams that he is back in Guy’s Hospital dissecting a young woman. p. 408

He also dreams of that Grace “is bending over him in the close darkness, her loosened hair brushing his face. He isn’t surprised, nor does he ask how she has managed to come here from her prison cello. He pulls her down – she is wearing only a nightdress – and falls on top of her, and shoves himself into her with a groan of lust and no manners, for in dreams everything is permitted”. p. 408 ( The dream is real only that it is Mrs Humphreys who joins him in bed. Simon here obviously desires Grace but he can only attest it in his dreams.)

“Women, the maids. Sitting on the edges of their narrow beds, in their white cotton shifts, their hair unbound and rippling down over their shoulders, their lips parted, their eyes gleaming.
Waiting for him.” p. 159 (Are not these dreams brought on by his subconscious desire (at this point of the novel) for Grace, who was also, a serving maid.) He realises that it is “Grace’s story, with its Atlantic crossing, its burial at sea, its catalogue of household objects; and the overbearing father, of course. One father leads to another” p. 160 (The sea and household objects figures strongly in this dream).

There is a tension between Simon’s professional treatment of Grace and his compassion and feelings for her.

(Simon on being a surgeon but the subtext is Grace)
“A cold hand and a steady eye were what was required. Those who felt too deeply for the patient’s suffering were the ones in whose fingers the knife slipped. The afflicted did not need your compassion, but your skill”. p. 217

Yet, instead of asking her for advice on how to hire a maid after the departure of Dora, he “thought better of it. He must retain his position of all-knowing authority in her eyes.” p. 336

Simon’s attitudes towards women and their “gratitude” and power within relationships.
He knows that Grace is playing a game during their conversations.
“She appears to welcome them, and even enjoy them; much as one enjoys a game of any sort, when one is winning, he tells himself grimly. The emotion she expresses most openly towards him is a subdued gratitude.

He’s coming to hate the gratitude of women” because “it puts you at a disadvantage.” He thinks that “their gratitude isn’t real; what they really mean by it is that he should be grateful to them. Secretly they despise him. He recalls with embarrassment, and a kind of shrivelling self-loathing, the puppyish condescension he used to display when paying out money to some pitiful shopworn streetgirl – the beseeching look in her eyes, and how large and rich and compassionate he felt himself to be, as if the favours about to be conferred were his, not hers. What contempt they all must have kept hidden, under their thanks and smiles” p. 422

(This is a fascinating passage which explores the power and sex relationships that Simon feels he has with women. He doesn’t feel in control and suspects that even when he is paying a prostitute it is he that is being manipulated through the selfishness of another.)

Simon feels the same way about the “gratitude”of Mrs Humphrey
“Rachel, as he has now been entreated to call her. The more miles he is able to put between himself and Rachel Humphrey, the lighter and less troubled in spirit he feels. He’s gotten himself in too deep with her. He’s floundering – images of quicksand come to mind – . . . .Having a mistress – for that’s what she’s become, he supposes, . . . is worse than having a wife. The responsibilities involved are weightier, and more muddled.” p. 422-3

Mrs Humphrey claims to have been sleepwalking when she went to Simon’s bed:
This is the very thing Rachel claims of herself: she was sleepwalking, she says. She thought she was outdoors in the sunlight, gathering flowers but somehow found herself in his room, in the darkness, in his arms, and already then it was too late, she was lost”. . . .”He doesn’t for a moment believe this story, but for a refined woman of her class he supposes it’s a way of saving face.” (Mrs Humphreys claims to be a somnambulist “since childhood”. The links with Grace are obvious. It also highlights the question for Simon whether he should believe “Grace’s” somnambulism when he immediately discounts “Rachel’s”. p. 423

The rituals of Mrs Humphrey’s melodramatic role-playing “bores” Simon. (Perhaps also because he is required to play the role of secret lover himself.)

Simon is not used to “respectable” women, having used prostitutes when he felt the need to do so. He finds that “Respectable women are by nature sexually cold”. p. 424 (Simon reflects on Mrs Humphreys and how she contrasts with prostitutes that he had formerly known in Europe: “A whore is cheap not because she’s ugly or old, but because she’s a bad actress”. p. 425 In a sense this links with the idea of role-playing by several characters in the novel.)

Simon does not want responsibilities“. . .such is his perversity that he would rather be in London or Paris. No ties, no connections. He would be able to lose himself completely”. p. 426

Simon temporarily takes the role of being a detective

He meets key people who knew Grace and travels from Toronto to Richmond Hill to see Kinnear’s house.

He also uses early psychology.

These are rough notes and have not been not worked up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You mentioned page 94 twice in there

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I teach Film, Media and English Lit.