Now forty-six years old, Grace, who believes she might be pregnant, spends her afternoons on the verandah making herself a Tree of Paradise quilt, which will include patches of material she’s saved from Mary Whitney’s petticoat, her own prison nightdress, and the dress Nancy wore when Grace first came to Mr. Kinnear’s.
Grace’s struggle to see herself as innocent after receiving her pardon once again demonstrates the vulnerable nature of a woman’s reputation. After years of thinking herself a “celebrated murderess” and finding some degree of satisfaction in that title, Grace’s public reputation undergoes a sudden reversal that she finds difficult to cope with privately. Grace’s experience gives meaning to words that Mrs. Jordan writes in her letter to Mrs. Humphrey: “What is believed in society, is not always the equivalent of what is true; but as regards a woman’s reputation, it amounts to the same thing.” Whereas in Mrs. Humphrey’s case, Mrs. Jordan worries that public opinion will condemn her as an adulteress, in Grace’s case, public opinion has shifted from condemnation to exoneration. Even though Grace may have been exonerated, her new “innocence” brings with it new worries. Now that she’s an older woman, she will have difficulty finding suitable work to support herself and may end up with no choice but to resort to prostitution. Although an alternative plan emerges to ensure Grace’s well-being, her fear demonstrates how an apparently positive reversal of fortune can still have disastrous implications for a woman.
Although Jamie Walsh provides Grace with a safe haven following her pardon and release from prison, his treatment of her nonetheless echoes the troubling behavior of men who have appeared throughout the novel. Jamie’s treatment of Grace most clearly mimics that of Dr. Jordan. Like Dr. Jordan, Jamie has a nearly unquenchable thirst for Grace’s stories about her life. The more disturbing the story, the more enthusiastic he appears to be. And what’s more, Grace’s most upsetting stories have the perverse effect of igniting Jamie’s sexual desires. Just as Dr. Jordan grew aroused in Part XII when fantasizing about Grace as a murderess, Grace reports that her stories of misery lead Jamie to stroke her hair and begin to undress her. These behaviors send up a red flag for Grace, confirming once again that even when men profess to be helping, they remain primarily invested in satisfying their own wants.
What Grace finds even more troubling than Jamie’s erotic response to her suffering is his obsession with being forgiven for having testified against Grace during her trial. Jamie’s longing for forgiveness resurrects Grace’s earlier theory about the guilt of victims. In Part XII, Grace explained that guilt is concentrated in the victim of a crime rather than the perpetrator. Just as she felt frustrated with Dr. Jordan’s failure to understand the nature of guilt, here Grace expresses annoyance that Jamie has failed to understand the nature of forgiveness. She believes that it is not the perpetrators who need to be forgiven but the victims because victims are the ones who cause trouble. Grace implicitly identifies as a victim here, and she further suggests that it is she, and not Jamie, who needs to be forgiven for being weak and creating sorrow for others.
The Tree of Paradise quilt that Grace makes at the end of the novel references the Biblical story of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, yet for Grace, the quilt represents a symbolic unity between herself, Mary Whitney, and Nancy Montgomery. Back in Part V, Grace indicated her desire to make herself a Tree of Paradise quilt, much like the one Mrs. Alderman Parkinson had. Now that she is finally able to make such an elaborate quilt for herself, Grace also takes the opportunity to make her own alterations to the conventional pattern. Whereas the conventional pattern features three separate tree designs, Grace’s revised pattern will feature just one large tree. Furthermore, three of the triangles that make up the tree are made out of different material from the rest. For the three special triangles Grace uses material from her prison nightdress and fabric from clothes that used to belong to Mary and Nancy. Stitched together in the quilt, the three women will all be together. By ending the novel with this memento, Atwood foregrounds the ultimate strength and fortitude of women, whose spirits survive in spite of a society that otherwise holds them back. Though none of the women’s lives have ended happily, still they remain bound together in womanhood.