Summary: Part VIII

Grace reflects on the experiences of her day. She describes for the reader how there had been a beautiful pink sunrise in the morning but then reveals that the window in her cell is too high for her to see through, and she had actually just imagined the beautiful sunrise.

As she changed out of her nightdress, she heard a song in her head that Jamie Walsh used to play. She claims that she remembered the tune wrong, but she also insists that “there was no one to hold me to account, or correct me, just as there was no one to say that the real sunrise was nothing like the one I’d invented for myself.”

Grace also recounts how, during the usual breakfast Bible reading, a fellow inmate pinched her thigh. She was trying to get Grace to scream. The previous day this same inmate had called her a “doctor’s pet” and a “spoiled whore,” and Grace reflects on the ease with which petty jealousies grow in prison.

Later in the day, the two keepers came to escort her to the Governor’s house. They made jokes about slipping into a side alley to have sex with her, and even after Grace rebuffed them, they continued with their aggressive sexual remarks.

During their meeting at the Governor’s house, Dr. Jordan seemed forlorn. She told him she’d had a dream the previous night, and he had perked up. She recounted that she’d dreamt about large red flowers that resembled peonies. However, she confides to the reader, “I did not say that they were made of cloth, nor did I say when I had seen them last; nor did I say that they were not a dream.” Dr. Jordan quickly wrote down what she said, but Grace expresses doubts about his ability to capture the truth of her words, since “like most gentlemen he often wants a thing to mean more than it does.”

After Dr. Jordan left, Lydia came to speak with Grace. She told Grace about her admirer, Dr. Jerome DuPont. Lydia described the man to Grace and explained his interest in “Neuro-hypnotism.” The conversation then turned to Dr. Jordan, and Lydia confessed her desire to have tea with him and hear him talk about asylums. Grace worried that Dr. Jordan would not reciprocate Lydia’s interest, which could lead to trouble.

The next day Grace continues her story. She tells about going to church with Nancy one Sunday and how everyone in the community treated them coldly. Later that week, McDermott told Grace that Nancy had given him notice. In his anger, he implied that Nancy was a whore and said he didn’t want to work for her anyway. Grace felt shocked when McDermott called Nancy a whore. He explained that Nancy had been sleeping with Mr. Kinnear and that she’d had a baby by another man when she was working for a different employer.

Grace confesses to Dr. Jordan that she lost some respect for Nancy at this point and that the discord between them continued to grow. Grace also notes that McDermott grew more brooding and vengeful and expressed a desire to kill Nancy. Dr. Jordan interrupts Grace to ask if she believed McDermott. She answers no. He reminds her that, in his confession, McDermott had claimed that Grace had planned to poison Nancy and that she repeatedly asked for his help. Grace replies that just because something has been written down does not make it true. Jordan agrees, and Grace continues with her story.

Grace recounts that Nancy gave her the afternoon of her birthday off. Not knowing what else to do, Grace wandered into the orchard, thinking about how she no longer knew the whereabouts of her family and so was effectively alone in the world. Depressed, she lay down to sleep, only to wake up when Jamie Walsh approached. Jamie expressed his affection for Grace and asked to be her sweetheart. This cheered Grace up, but she declined. When she returned to the house later that afternoon, she found Mr. Kinnear standing on the verandah with a telescope. He asked her who the man in the orchard was. She heard suspicion in his tone and went into the house feeling spied upon.

Analysis: Part VIII

Grace’s reflection on the beauty of a sunrise she didn’t actually see showcases the power of her imagination. Locked in her cell with its window out of reach, Grace has no way to look out on the world beyond the prison. Even so, she uses her imagination to conjure the vision of a beautiful pink sunrise, which takes the place of the actual sunrise. Despite its fictional status, Grace’s sunset still brings her real solace. Grace demonstrates the power of her imagination again when she sings to herself a song that Jamie Walsh used to play. In her mind she changes the lyrics to make the song “come out in a better way.” Just as there was no one to challenge her account of the morning’s sunrise, Grace acknowledges that there’s no one to hold her account for rewriting the lyrics. Once again, Graces uses her imagination to produce a fiction that pleases her more than reality. Yet Grace’s fictions also pose a problem. If she feels entitled to make up fictions that better suit her desires, then the reader may not be able to trust her account of her life events.

In the first half of Part VIII, Grace expresses concern about Dr. Jordan’s well-being, which offers a sign of her own growing affection for him. Grace never makes any explicit claims about feeling attracted to Dr. Jordan, and from a certain perspective she implicitly denies any such attraction. For instance, she takes pains to report how jealous inmates terrorize her for her work with Dr. Jordan, and they call her a “spoiled whore,” as if they assume she’s getting special treatment in exchange for sexual favors. This account of cruelty born from jealousy helps subtly to discount the notion that Grace is the “doctor’s pet” her fellow prisoners believe. Yet, when Lydia confesses to Grace her desire to have tea with Dr. Jordan and listen to his theories, Grace is quick to caution her against doing so. Grace believes that Lydia would prove an unsuitable partner for Dr. Jordan, and that he would not reciprocate her feelings. Although Grace’s warning may be a sign of her consideration for Lydia, it may also indicate that Grace wants to keep Dr. Jordan for herself.

Even as Grace shows an increasing affection for Dr. Jordan, she continues to thwart his efforts to understand her past. In an attempt to perk him up, she tells him she had a dream, which is what she thinks he wants to hear. But once again she withholds crucial information, and Dr. Jordan continues to develop a distorted picture of Grace’s mind. As with previous examples where Grace withheld information, here she does so because she doesn’t trust Dr. Jordan’s ability to understand who she really is. She feels that Dr. Jordan has a tendency to over-interpret evidence, and this tendency will make him overlook the real significance of what she has to say. Grace’s concern also stems from her annoyance that Dr. Jordan must write down everything she says. In previous meetings he quoted from the official confessions that she and McDermott gave during their trial, and she pointed out that just because the words were written down doesn’t make them true. Even though Dr. Jordan agreed with her then, he persists in writing down everything she says. But Grace knows that whatever he’s writing still can’t quite be the full truth.

Grace’s account of the events that took place on her birthday at the Kinnear household demonstrates the fragility of a woman’s reputation. Not knowing what else to do when Nancy gave her the afternoon off, Grace simply wandered through the estate’s orchard, pondering her life and feeling trapped. She fell asleep, only to get startled awake by Jamie Walsh, who offered to be her “sweetheart.” Charmed but uninterested, Grace declined. Although he accepted her decision without much protest, in a story where men have frequently treated Grace as a sexual object, it’s difficult to interpret Jamie’s sudden appearance and bold proposal as completely innocent. And yet nothing physical does occur between them. Jamie only helps raise Grace’s spirits. However, her high spirits once again get dashed when she emerges from the orchard and finds Mr. Kinnear on the verandah with his telescope, violating her privacy and questioning her morals. Grace knows that Mr. Kinnear feels suspicious of her conduct with Jamie, and what is even worse than her violated sense of privacy is her understanding that, regardless of what really happened between her and Jamie, whatever Mr. Kinnear believes about her conduct will supersede the real truth. Her reputation is at stake and in the hands of a man.