Alias Grace Questions and Answers: Sections 5-6, Chapters 12-20

Margaret Atwood

Questions and Answers: Sections 5-6, Chapters 12-20

Questions
1. Why is Mary Whitney an important friend for Grace? What virtues does she possess?

2. Superstitions are a part of Grace’s world. Name three superstitions and explain how they advance the story.

3. In Grace’s world, pregnancy is a difficult state. Explain why pregnancy is disgraceful or difficult, first in Ireland and then in Canada.

4. How do the voices Grace hears and the amnesia Grace experiences following Mary Whitney’s death set the stage for the eventual discovery of why Grace can’t remember the murder at Mr. Kinnear’s?

5. Mrs. Alderman Parkinson plans to tell a lie to hide the source of Mary’s death. How has Grace seen others lie or enter a state of denial to protect their status?

Answers
1. Mary Whitney is democratic and believes people are created equal. She knows how to participate in society’s systems yet maintain her own opinion—she has the “self-possessed” nature Grace develops as she matures. She serves as a sister or mother figure to Grace, protecting her against exploitation by her father, teaching her the facts of life and sharing in pranks with a similar sense of humor.

2. Three examples (there are of course more): When Grace and Mary toss apple peels and Mary’s break, that predicts that Mary will never live to marry. Grace’s mother sees crows on the ship from Belfast, a sign of bad luck predicting her death during the crossing to North America. Jeremiah the peddler tells Grace she has sharp rocks ahead, which readers already know to be true.

3. To become pregnant while not married is a great shame. Grace learns her mother may have gotten pregnant before marriage, and once married, Grace’s mother’s many pregnancies create a large family that her parents can’t afford to feed. For young women, pregnancy and non-marital sex are scandalous acts.

4. Grace hears a voice that she believes is Mary’s soul asking to be “let in” and then “let out.” Grace believes she may not have let the soul out in time. This folk practice involved opening the window so the soul can exit a dead body. Right after that, Grace enters a sleep and wakes in a zombie-like state she can’t recall, asking where she, Grace, is, as if her body is inhabited by someone else.

5. McDermott lied to shift responsibility for the murder onto others. Grace’s father feigns interest in Mrs. Burt to receive benefits for the family. Grace lies about her age in order to secure employment and doesn’t tell the papers where she grew up to protect her Aunt Pauline. Mary conceals her relationship, ring, and pregnancy from Grace for a long time.