Saturday, 1 September 2007

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: the theme of relationships between men and women

Relationships between men and women in Alias Grace

Grace is perceptive about Simon Jordan. She can see when he is troubled. She offers to remember her dreams for him, “If it will help you, Sir, with the trouble you are in; for I was feeling pity towards him, he looked so out of sorts” 282-3

Simon’s attitudes towards women, 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 hates 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” 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.” 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”. 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 wants to get out of the relationship and “Inwardly he wishes” the Major “ a long and healthy life”. 424.

Lydia wears her new dress for the benefit of Simon – and she is sorry to have missed him. (Grace is very aware of this. 283. The will he or wont he have a relationship with Lydia is continued for a good part of his inclusion in the novel.) Grace can see there will be trouble “when one loves and the other does not”. 285

Simon’s relationship with Mrs Humphries.-She is his landlady
-becomes through necessity a kind of servant (when Dora leaves)
-becomes his mistress out of gratitude!

Jeremiah the peddler’s relationship with Grace (caring and somewhat mysterious, although he offers a relationship without marriage if she would form a partnership with him in his role as a mesmermist duping the credulous.

Jaimie’s relationship with Grace
He is young and innocent at Richmond Hill. Jaimie allowed his jealousy to get the better of him at the trial:

“He felt betrayed in love, because I had gone off with MacDermott; and from being an angel in his eyes, and fit to be idolized and worshipped, I was transformed to a demon, and he would do all in his power to destroy me. (This was a disappointment as Grace had been hoping for “a good word” from him at the trial.) 418

Kinnear’s relationship with Nancy and Grace

McDermott’s relationship with Grace

Kenneth McKenzie’s relationship with Grace

These relationships are mostly based on power in which women, from servants to wives, are dependent or vulnerable.

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I teach Film, Media and English Lit.