I have thought, why is it that women have chosen to sew such flags, and then to lay them on the tops of beds? For they make the bed the most noticeable thing in a room. And then I have thought, it’s for a warning. Because you may think a bed is a peaceful thing, Sir . . . But it isn’t so for everyone; and there are many dangerous things that may take place in a bed.
In Part VI, Grace describes the many quilts that she used to air out and repair while working for Mrs. Alderman Parkinson. She notes that when the quilts were all strung up on a line, she used to think they looked like flags left by an army marching to war. Grace has just explained to Dr. Jordan that many quilt patterns traditionally correspond to particular rites of passage in a woman’s life. For instance, the Log Cabin quilt commemorates a woman’s marriage. Here, however, Grace offers an alternative interpretation that goes against the conventional understanding. Instead of celebrating rites of passage, quilts offer a warning to women about the dangers of domesticity and male sexual aggression. Just as an army might raise a flag to signal an approaching threat, Grace hypothesizes that women lay quilts on beds as a reminder of everything traumatic that might take place in such a seemingly safe and comforting place.
Grace emphasizes the bed because it represents dangers that specifically pertain to women. Although Grace does mention that most people, both men and women, are born in beds and die in them, other rites of passage that take place in a bed have a disproportionate effect on women’s physical and mental well-being. First is the matter of sex. Grace mentions to Dr. Jordan that though some may refer to sex as an act of love-making, for many women, sex is a matter that causes despair, shame, and pain that they must suffer through silently. Even more dangerous than sex, however, is the act of giving birth. Many complications could arise that might lead to the death of the child, the mother, or both. As the setting for several major rites of passage, the bed appears much more troubling than it does on the surface as a place of comfort and rest. According to Grace’s theory, then, the quilt that tops a bed should serve as a constant reminder of otherwise forgotten dangers.