Is the treatment of women as expressed in Alias Grace accurate based on the context of the novel?
Atwood is, if nothing else, an excellent scholar and researcher, and she is very careful to explore in this text the contemporary views associated with women and crime. This is something that is made explicit through the treatment that Grace receives at the hands of the forces of law and order and the way in which she is interrogated, and it is something that eventually plays into her hands and allows her to escape the death sentence. Women at the time of the novel were believed to be inherently frail and moral, and therefore it was doubted whether a woman such as Grace could actually commit the murder she was accused of. Throughout the text, reference is made to the contemporary view of women. Consider the following quote that Grace reports to the reader as coming from her doctor:
In his student days, he used to argue that if a woman has no other course open to her but starvation, prostitution, or throwing herself from a bridge, then surely the prostitute, who has shown the most tenacious instinct for self-preservation, should be considered stronger and saner than her frailer and no longer living sisters. One couldn't have it both ways, he'd pointed out: if women are seduced and abandoned they're supposed to go mad, but if they survive, and seduce in their turn, then they were mad to begin with.
Such quotes point out the curious double standards that dominated the treatment of women at the time. Women were considered to be good and pure as long as they conformed to the impression society had of them. However, the moment they strayed from that role or image, they were deemed to be "mad" and to be deviant. This novel seeks to expose such double standards and explore the myths inherent in such simplistic presentations of women. The novel therefore does present accurately the views of the day concerning how women should be treated.