In her novel Alias Grace, Atwood explores the psychological mind-set of one of the most infamous Canadian women of the mid-nineteenth century. The author’s fascination with the murderess began when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asked her to write a play about Grace in 1974. The protagonist is the historical figure Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant who worked in Toronto in the 1840’s. The setting is established as The Kingston Penitentiary at the start of the novel, where Grace is carrying out her life sentence for the murder of her wealthy employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his pregnant mistress.
Grace is sentenced for the murder, along with James McDermott, her coworker and supposed lover. James, a stable hand, claims that Grace incited him to perform the gruesome murders; he is hanged for his part. There is much dissent as to Grace’s guilt; she claims to have no recollection of the killings, which occurred when she was a scullery maid of sixteen. Among those who wish to exonerate Grace are a group of reformers who seek help from Dr. Simon Jordan. The reformers hope that by engaging the doctor, they can end Grace’s fifteen years of imprisonment. Jordan, a reputable figure in the fledgling field of mental health, is sufficiently intrigued to help the prisoner. Jordan is riveted by Grace, yet he continues to find her an enigma.
As Jordan encourages Grace to reveal information about her experiences, the story of her...
(The entire section is 431 words.)