What are some quotes in Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace that show Grace writes her own story through her quilting?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One example of the title character Grace Marks, in Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace, writing her own story through her quilts can be seen in Chapter 18 when she speaks of herself making a quilt for Miss Lydia, the governor's daughter. Grace is specifically using the Pandora's Box design to create Lydia's quilt. At the mention of Pandora's Box, Dr. Simon Jordan becomes excited and asks Grace if she knows who Pandora is. Grace relays the story of the myth she learned while working alongside her best friend Mary Whitney at Mrs. Alderman Parkinson's:

[S]he was a Greek person from days of old, who looked into a box she had been told not to, and a lot of diseases came out, and wars, and other human ills. (p. 146)

We can see how the Pandora's Box quilt design reflects Grace's own life when we remember that, as Grace's life progresses, the more she experiences hardships. First, her best friend Mary dies when her abortion goes awry, leaving Grace heartbroken. Then, Grace becomes entangled with McDermott and imprisoned for murder though her true involvement in the murder remains a complete mystery. It can be said that all of Grace's experiences parallel the myth of Pandora opening the box: The more Grace learns of the world, the deeper she becomes entrenched in the world's hardships.

A second example of how Grace's quilting relates to her life can be see the moment, when asked by Dr. Jordan in Chapter 12, she thinks of how she longs to make a quilt for herself of a pattern named Tree of Paradise. Though Grace never gives Dr. Jordan a straight answer to his question, she has her very own quilt all planned out in her mind, and she relays her plans to her readers. She longs to make herself a Tree of Paradise quilt just like Mrs. Alderman Parkinson's. The quilt would be made of dark triangles to represent the leaves and light triangles to represent the apples. The only difference between Grace's desired quilt and Mrs. Parkinson's is that Parkinson's had a "Wild Goose Chase border," whereas Grace would want hers to be "an intertwined border, one light coloured, one dark, the vine border they call it, vines twisted together like the vines on the mirror in the parlour" (p. 98).

Grace's choices of the Tree of Paradise pattern and vine border contain a great deal of symbolic meaning that connect with her life. The Tree of Paradise with its apples represents the tree in the Garden of Eden upon which grew the fruit of forbidden knowledge. Though the biblical fruit was not an apple, it has come to be represented by the apple due to John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost; the apple and the tree itself have come to represent sexual transgressions. A vine also has symbolic meaning based on Celtic mythology, mythology Grace would be aware of due to her Irish origins. According to Celtic mythology, a vine can symbolize connection, regeneration, and even fertility. Hence, even the vine can be seen as representing sexual transgressions.

Throughout the book, we see that, throughout her life, Grace's mind has been tormented by the thought of sexual transgressions. First, her best friend Mary's sexual transgression led to the loss of Mary's life and Grace's heartache; then, she learned of a sexual transgression between Thomas Kinnear, her next employer, and the housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. This sexual transgression morally repulsed Grace to the point that she became somewhat involved in their murder; although, the reader never learns to what extent Grace became involved.

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Alias Grace

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