Why does Grace make a Tree of Paradise quilt at the end of the novel?
At the end of the novel, following her release from prison and her marriage to Jamie Walsh, Grace begins to make a quilt based on the pattern known as Tree of Paradise. Grace has a special affinity for the Tree of Paradise pattern, which she first encountered while working as a live-in servant in the Alderman Parkinson household. Ever since, as she admits to the reader in Part V, Grace has longed to have her own Tree of Paradise quilt. The title of the quilt pattern references the Biblical story in which Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and fell from God’s grace. Yet Grace reverses the traditional symbolism of the Tree of Paradise quilt. Instead of marking her own fall from grace, the quilt celebrates her redemption. Recently pardoned of her crime and released from prison, and now finding herself free to live out her life in a place where nobody knows her, Grace has the time and liberty at last to make an elaborate quilt that she has always wanted.
There is also evidence to suggest that Grace makes the Tree of Paradise quilt to forge a spiritual connection with two prominent women from her life: Mary Whitney and Nancy Montgomery. Tree of Paradise quilts usually feature multiple trees. Grace, however, believes that these trees merely express different aspects of a single tree. Hence, Grace redesigns the pattern of her quilt to a single tree. And into this new unified pattern, Grace also plans to incorporate fabric that belonged to Mary and Nancy as well as a swatch from her own prison nightgown. Stitched together in this unique way, the three women will all be together in a kind of spiritual marriage.
How does the novel depict the relationship between science and religion?
Alias Grace depicts a world where scientific theories increasingly displace religious beliefs. The novel reflects the tension between science and religion through two main groups of characters. Dr. Jordan serves as the main representative of the science camp. He maintains a commitment to objective observation and rational thinking, and he privileges theories based on evidence rather than speculation. Several characters in the novel represent the religion camp. The foremost representative is Enoch Verringer, a Methodist reverend whose keen interest in Dr. Jordan’s psychological methods shows the capacity of religious belief to accommodate scientific theory. Other representatives include Mrs. Quennell and her circle. Whereas Verringer belongs to an institutionalized religion, Mrs. Quennell and her friends have a fascination with occult religious practices, like Spiritualism and Mesmerism. Though these occult practices emphasize communication with spirits, they increasingly embrace pseudo-scientific techniques, such as hypnotism. Thus, although science and religion exist in tension throughout the novel, even those who hold close to religious beliefs show some enthusiasm for scientific ideas.
Although science is bleeding into religion in the novel, there remains a strong underlying tension between them that is never resolved. This is evident when members of each camp offer competing explanations for Grace’s mysterious condition. Reverend Verringer suggests that Grace has been possessed by the spirit of Mary Whitney. As he notes, this explanation has a long history in Christianity and hence has an authority supported by tradition. The Spiritualists tacitly agree with Verringer’s proposal, as suggested by their belief that a spirit had entered the room and turned Dr. DuPont’s hypnotism into a séance. The scientists in the room disagree and suggest the patient suffers from a form of dédoublement—a “splitting” of the personality into two distinct individuals who inhabit the same body. In the end, the novel does not make it clear which of these explanations is correct, or indeed if either is correct. Thus, the tension between science and religion remains unresolved.
What does the novel suggest about the relationship between reality and fiction in storytelling?
The theme of storytelling is present throughout the novel and suggests that every story weaves together elements of reality and fiction. Grace learns this lesson firsthand when she tells Dr. Jordan the story of her life. She learns that storytelling always contains some degree of fiction, if only because the storyteller knows what will happen in advance and so can describe events in ways that consciously foreshadow what’s to come. Grace realizes that she may be doing this in Part VII, when she recalls what Mr. Kinnear’s house looked like on her first day there and then comments on how odd it is to think about how six months later everyone else in the house would be dead. Upon reflection, Grace recognizes that her knowledge of how her own story ends has colored her memories with emotions that she did not experience at the time. In other words, the very form Grace’s story takes brings a fictional element to otherwise true events.
Although every story weaves together reality and fiction, they cannot easily be distinguished from one another, as evidenced by Dr. Jordan’s struggle to determine what specifically is true or false in Grace’s story. By the end of the novel Dr. Jordan feels completely at sea in his uncertainty. He finds it impossible to tell whether Grace is guilty and has duped him, or if his excessive analysis has encouraged skepticism of a woman who is obviously innocent. Yet it need not always be the case that the impossibility to distinguish fact from fiction leads to frustration, as it does in Dr. Jordan’s case. Grace reflects in Part VIII on the imagination’s ability to use fiction to supplement reality and thereby make real life more palatable. Specifically, she discusses how even though she could not see the sunrise that morning, she imagined that it was beautiful. Grace’s fictional sunset may be true, false, or somewhere in between. But, in this case, the inability to distinguish reality from fiction doesn’t matter, since the story Grace tells herself about the sunrise provides her with much-needed solace.
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