How Alias Grace is an indictment of what happens to women who live in a traditional patriarchal society

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Sophomore (College 2nd year) ・Sociology ・MLA ・1 Sources

Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace is seen as an indictment of what happens to women in patriarchal societies. The novel paints a complete picture of women's lifestyles, how they were viewed by society, what was expected of them, and their positions in society. This paper would highlight some of the scenes used by Atwood to depict women's lives during Grace Mark's tenure. Women were permitted to serve. As seen in the novel, women had jobs just as men did, though their roles were not as lucrative as men's jobs were. The most common female occupation apart from textile factory workers, retail sales clerks, milliners, and seamstresses was domestic work. There was a high demand for domestic workers, and poor parents would hire out their daughters since they were dependent on them. Grace herself left their home in search of a place to work, and she got a job as a domestic worker. Grace's friend Mary also says that it is a custom for girls in the country to hire themselves out in order to earn money for their dowries (Atwood, Margaret).

As also portrayed in the novel, women were expected to be submissive. The most perceived feminine virtue during Grace’s time was submission. Men were visualized as superior to the women, and they were considered as the doers. Women, on the other hand, were seen as less powerful and more vulnerable. As also highlighted in the book, the wife’s earnings and property were controlled by the husband. Submission is also seen when Dr. Simon says that respectable women are supposed to be sexually cold by nature and that they are supposed to be resistant. He says this when Mrs. Humphrey tries to make advances on him (Atwood, Margaret). According to him, it is men who are allowed to make advances and not women.

In the novel, it is clear that women valued marriage and the society looked down upon the unmarried women. The society viewed marriage as a fulfillment of a woman’s nature and every woman aspired to get married. Grace regrets the murder charges, and she thinks how she will not be able to get married and have kids like any other woman. Mary Whitney also feels terrible that after Mrs. Parkinson’s son leaves her pregnant after promising her marriage, she would not be able to get a man to marry her again. The daughter of the governor, Lydia, is also forced by her parents to marry someone she does not love (Atwood, Margaret).These instances show how marriage was essential.

Women in the traditional patriarchal society were seen as weak and in need of protection. When Grace and James McDermott are found guilty of murder, McDermott is hanged while Grace is sentenced to life imprisonment because of the weakness of her sex and her supposed witlessness. Dr. Simon also tries to protect Grace in attempting to prove that she was not guilty of the murder and that she had a mental problem. Weakness is also seen when McDermott threatens Grace, and she complies with his demands.

Women were responsible and took care of their families. Grace’s father would squander all his money on alcohol while her mother suffered from them. When their mother is sick, they almost get starved. Later when her mother dies, Grace’s father expects Grace to go out and look for work so that she could help in supporting the family (Atwood, Margaret). It is clear that women were the breadwinners of the family and they were expected to be responsible and take care of the family. This is also evident when parents from needy families would hire out their daughters to work, and they would entirely depend on them for financial support.

In the novel, Atwood displays that there was jealousy among women. When Grace goes to work at Thomas Kinnear’s house, she is jealous of Nancy Montgomery, who is Kinnear’s mistress. Grace envies Montgomery’s jewelry, and she wonders why Montgomery has to have all that to herself. Grace also does not like it when she has to receive orders from Montgomery who had a higher rank than her. She does not like that she is being ordered by a woman. Jealousy is also seen when Montgomery gets pregnant, and Kinnear’s attention starts shifting towards Grace. Montgomery becomes jealous of Grace and sees her as a threat.

Women are seen as sex objects in the novel. There are various incidences where women are only viewed by men as tools of pleasure. Grace’s mother is abused by her husband and is pregnant most of the time. Mary Whitney, Grace’s friend, is used and given empty promises by Mrs. Parkinson’s son then later left while pregnant, Nancy Montgomery is also taken advantage of by her boss Thomas Kinnear and she becomes his mistress. Grace also encounters sexual abuse as she faces sexual attacks from the guards while in prison and from the doctors at the asylum (Atwood, Margaret). The correctional officers describe women as sexual tools as they say the only useful thing in women is found below the waist.

From the novel, women are also perceived as in need for status. Women looked for husbands who were above their statuses to marry them. They wanted men who had money. Dr. Simon’s mother also wanted her son to marry a rich woman and tried to force her son on the woman, Lydia, who was the daughter of a governor. She attempted to make the arrangement because she wanted to be associated with a rich family. The governor’s wife also has a women circle and a spiritualist circle who meet at her house once a week. They want to be seen as valuable and intelligent members of community and Grace narrates that they want to know people who are writing books.

Women were also seen as sordid from the novel. This is evident by the way they were taken advantage of and the way they were viewed differently from men. When Mary is left by Mrs. Parkinson’s son, she says no man would want to marry her, and she would end up in the streets. When Montgomery also gets pregnant, Kinnear views her as filth and loses interest in her (Atwood, Margaret). The prison guards also describe women using harsh words. Dr. Simon is also not interested in Lydia, but he is free to flirt with her. These instances create a perception that the society had of women as sordid.

From these scenarios as depicted in the novel ‘Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, it is true that the novel is seen as an indictment of what happens to women who live in a patriarchal society. A reader would come to the same conclusion after reading the novel because of the instances discussed above.

Works Cited

Atwood, Margaret. Alias Grace (S.L) Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017

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