Analysis: Part XI

Grace’s experience as a woman accused of murder taught her that no matter how she acted, the public would find evidence of her guilt. By remaining calm as the police interrogated her, her questioners saw her poise as evidence of a callous nature. Yet if she had showed any emotions whatsoever, those same interrogators would have read her behavior as a sign of remorse for her murderous actions. Either way, the police—and many in the wider public—presumed Grace guilty and used her every word and action as evidence of that guilt. Grace’s difficult position sheds light on the deep-seated misogyny of her contemporary society. Grace has already encountered several examples of how fragile women’s reputations can be. Mary died because she feared what life would be like as a single, unmarried mother. Nancy suffered harsh treatment from the Richmond Hill community for her affair with Mr. Kinnear. And now Grace understands that her status as a woman will make it impossible for her to escape suspicion.

The advice Grace’s lawyer gave her about her testimony again spotlights the important theme of storytelling. Before she made her official confession, Grace had intended to tell her story and stay truthful about the parts of her memory that were missing. Her lawyer, Mr. MacKenzie, strongly advised against this approach. If Grace testified with a fragmentary account, he believed that the ambiguity of her story would not cast sufficient doubt to prevent a guilty verdict or escape the hangman’s noose. Instead of ambiguity, Mr. MacKenzie advised that Grace tell her story as if she remembered everything. That way her story would all hang together in a way that would make the dynamics of cause and effect seem more plausible. In other words, Mr. MacKenzie coached Grace to tell a more compelling story, assuming that a well-structured plot conveyed a “ring of truth” that would appear more authentic than the reality of Grace’s fragmented memory.

The many ambiguities of Grace’s story lead to frustration and uncertainty, and they also create a sense of mystery that increasingly draws Dr. Jordan under her spell. Thus, as Grace nears the end of her account, Dr. Jordan feels more unsure than ever about what to believe, and his uncertainty causes him to descend further into a delusional state of mind. Dr. Jordan’s delusions demonstrate just how much his frustration with Grace is closely linked to sexual infatuation. The dream he has at the beginning of Part XI offers the primary example. In the first part of the dream, he struggles through layers of sheets, trying and failing to find the female corpse he’s meant to dissect. The corpse serves as a symbolic stand-in for Grace, and his inability to locate her body represents his failure to “dissect” Grace’s mind. The second part of the dream channels that frustration into an explicit sexual fantasy about Grace. Yet when he wakes from this dream Dr. Jordan realizes that he’s actually having sex with Mrs. Humphrey. Clearly, the intermingling of frustration and desire in relation to Grace has begun to erode the boundary between reality and fantasy, leading Dr. Jorden ineluctably toward madness.

As Dr. Jordan’s mental stability breaks down, the reader gains further insight into the fragile state of his masculinity. Just as he worries that Grace works hard to conceal important information from him, he suspects that all women must be trying to conceal something from him. The increasingly troubled relationship he develops with Mrs. Humphrey contributes to Dr. Jordan’s distrust of women. For instance, he believes Mrs. Humphrey lied when she said she sleepwalked into his room on the night when they first had sex. And during additional sexual encounters that happened on the nights that followed, Dr. Jordan felt that she was feigning her desire for him. On the one hand, Dr. Jordan interprets such feigned desire as a performance meant to imply an aversion that he must overcome. According to this interpretation, Mrs. Humphrey’s desire is, in fact, real, and the aversion is fake. On the other hand, Dr. Jordan worries that she is not performing, and that she, like other women, merely conceals her disgust for him. These fears about women demonstrate the fragility of Dr. Jordan’s masculinity, and they also point to a foundational misogyny in society of which Dr. Jordan himself seems unaware. Men in this society view women as naturally untrustworthy, deceitful, and manipulative, regardless of the choices women make.