The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Grace Marks tells her own story in Atwood’s novel. She becomes a sympathetic character, even though the reader is never sure exactly what happened on the day of the Kinnear/Montgomery murders. Grace tells her tale directly to the reader and to Simon Jordan in their sessions. Grace appears as an unlucky victim of fate: born into a poor family with a worthless alcoholic father, rendered motherless at an early age, innocent friend of the ill-fated Mary Whitney, new sixteen-year-old employee at the wrong time at the Kinnear household, and prisoner who is a woman and therefore an enigma. Her demeanor in prison, with Dr. Jordan, and with the governor’s wife and her guests shows a gentle, upright woman who accepts her fate without anger. She is both strong and proud. Yet Atwood never lets readers know what Grace’s real part was in the murders of Kinnear and Montgomery. Was she innocent, or was she crafty? Was she affected by bouts of insanity? It is the elusiveness of her tale that keeps the reader guessing and complicates the personality of Grace.

Simon Jordan comes to Kingston a dedicated professional with only a clinical interest in the case at hand. Simon’s narrative revolves around the four women in his life: his hypochondriac widowed mother, whose letters constantly beg him to come home; his lonely and impoverished landlady, Rachel Humphrey, who desires and finally gets his attentions; Miss Lydia, the governor’s daughter, who also desires...

(The entire section is 446 words.)