In this paper, I analyze Margaret Atwood’s biographical novel Alias Grace which is based on the life of Grace Marks, a servant who was convicted of murdering her employer and his housekeeper. I use feminist and psychological perspectives to recount Atwood’s interpretation of the 1800s social hierarchy and the use of labels in controlling individuals. First, I explain the severe oppression of women in the 19th century. For example, women in this era were financially controlled by men, held to high moral standards, expected to be chaste yet submissive, and restricted to domestic roles. Next, I describe the changing sentiment of the working class as Canadians started to rebel against the dominant hierarchy. Then, I describe violence as the result of injustice as Atwood transfers some of the blame from Grace to the oppressive society. Finally, I explain that, after leaving Grace with few options to fight oppression, society further condemns Grace through labels of insanity and criminality. I argue that, by emphasizing the oppressive social context in which the murders occurred, Atwood humanizes Grace and emphasizes the greater underlying issue of oppression.
Medlyn, Maria, "Female Insanity: the Portrayal of a Murderess in Alias Grace" (2017). Honors Capstone Projects. 5.