Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

1338 Words6 Pages
Margaret Atwood’s novel, Alias Grace, nominated for the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel, depicts a young 16 year old girl who is found guilty of murdering her employer and his lover in conspiracy with James McDerrmott. James McDermott is put to death by hanging, but Grace is brought to prison because she is of the “weaker sex.” This is a reflection of the construction of femininity and masculinity of the mid and late nineteenth century. A social issue of the Victorian age was women being treated as subordinate to men. Queen Victoria says, “Victorian ideology of gender rested on the belief that women were both physically and intellectually the inferior sex”(YILDIRIM). Women were seen as highly susceptible to becoming mentally ill because of this belief. Women were subject to only be “housewives.” The novel, Alias Grace, accurately shows the construction of this gender identity through society, sexuality, and emotion while challenging it through Grace’s mother and Mrs. Humphrey.
Society shows the stereotypical way of thinking in the Victorian era: women are subordinate to men. This can be seen through Mary Whitney. Mary Whitney tells Grace what her goals should be and how she should act: “It was a custom for young girls in this country to hire themselves out, in order to earn money for their dowries, and then they would marry, and if their husbands proposed they would soon be hiring their own servants in their turn and then they, ―would be mistress of a tidy farmhouse, and independent” (Atwood 182). Mary Whitney is explaining to Grace that a woman needs to get married in order for her to be successful. This was the gender construction of the time, and she is trying to get Grace to take on that role. This is very true to the a...

... middle of paper ... it through Grace’s mother and Mrs. Humphrey. The novel depicts this construct of gender identity through society by molding Grace to believe women are subordinate and need to get married and be good housewives to be successful. This construct is seen through emotion as women who are emotional are seen as “abnormal” and sent to asylums, while men had to power to do so. The societal construct of gender identity was seen as men were to bask in their sexuality and be assertive, while women were to be passive and suppress their sexuality. Mrs. Humphrey challenged this construct as she was assertive and the instigator. Lastly, the societal construct of gender identity was challenged through Grace’s mother as she took over the males position of being the provider. Overall, women were looked at as subordinate to men in the Victorian age and Atwood challenged this belief.
Open Document