Introductory guide to critical theory

The Victimized Power Figure: Margaret Atwood ‘s Siren in Alias Grace

Alias Grace is Margaret Atwood ‘s originative return on the true history of Grace Marks, an ill-famed nineteenth century Canadian maidservant convicted for her engagement of the slayings her employer Thomas Kinnear and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and kept woman. The inquiry of her guiltiness has ever been divided, possibly because of her utmost young person ( she was merely 16 at the clip of the test ) , the so modern-day position that the female sex were incapable of the violent, iniquitous Acts of the Apostless such as slaying but most controversial was Grace ‘s selective memory loss of the offense, differing testimonies, and possible insanity. When readers foremost run into Grace in Alias Grace, a commission of protagonists request for her forgiveness with the enlisted aid of Dr. Simon Jordan, a new expert in the underdeveloped field of mental unwellness, who must analyse Grace and supply for scientific grounds of her artlessness. Was Grace a victim of fortunes, an unwilling confederate or a unsafe, cunning female Sirens? Grace could be said to be a victim of circumstance: being born as a female with small to no power to get the better of life ‘s obstructions such as her destitute household and an opprobrious, alcoholic male parent, merely availability employment as a maidservant at the danger of employers ‘ sexual torment, and the weakness against a penal system that causes her imprisonment and supply possible freedom from said imprisonment. However, in Michel Foucault ‘s position, Grace is non a victim of the system, but a power figure. In his Discipline and Punishment, Foucault describes and analyzes the penal system that Grace is meshed in. The modern-day penal system aims for two effects for its inmates: to reform and normalise, or to extinguish wholly. Grace, nevertheless, is able to pull strings and last this penal system: although physically imprisoned, Grace is able to procure her freedom without mentally give uping to it. Through Foucault ‘s lens, Grace serves as a figure of authorization instead than victimization.

Discipline and Punish examines transmutation of the penal system from the public executing to private penitentiary technique. In the modern penal system, a sentence is non merely a opinion of guilt, but an appraisal of normalcy and a proficient prescription for standardization ; the opinion beyond the offense and organic structure but of the motivation and psyche. Although the passage is normally seen as rectification from the archaic and brutal signifiers of penalty, Foucault calls into judgement the “ distressing effects with respect to the power of the person and the control of authorities ” it has placed in society ( Fellgua ) . Foucault uses the panopticon as a metaphor as to what the passage has genuinely entailed. The panopticon is a theoretical perfect prison theoretical account where cells would be unfastened to a cardinal tower ; the captives in the cells are exposed to the cardinal panoptic tower but ne’er know whether there is person in the tower watching them ( Fellgua ) . Therefore, the panopticon construction ensures that inmate “ who is subjected to a field of visibleness, and who knows it, assumes duty for the restraints of power ; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself ; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he at the same time plays both functions ; he becomes the rule of his ain subjugation ” ( Foucault 202 ) . Foucault coins the term “ carceral metropolis ” to depict how the this panoptic technique has extended beyond the walls of prison and into common society itself ; the public believes that they can be surveilled at any clip, internalising the panoptic tower and constabulary themselves ( Fellgua ) . For Foucault, prison and and society are non separated by such thick walls, but controlled and run likewise to the schemes of power and cognition. By power and cognition, Foucault refers to the development of societal scientific disciplines designed to understand and therefore command how the head plant which has influenced trails and sentences. The psychiatric and psychological experts, magistrates, educationists, members of prison service that fragment the power to justice ( Foucault 21 ) have their similar opposite numbers in society: “ the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the ‘social-worker ” justice ” ( Foucault 304 ) . These Judgess declare the criterions of normalcy and persons, inmates or citizens, “ subjects to it his organic structure, his gestures, his behaviour, his aptitudes, his accomplishments ” to this criterion of subject.

In Grace ‘s instance, the carceral civilization is more seeable than usual because her Judgess of her artlessness that will find her freedom. Although her sentence has been long announced, other “ Judgess ” still have within their power to find the execution and accommodations to her sentence. However, Grace is vulnerable to both penal and social Judgess. Due to her past preparation as a retainer, and exceptionally talent as a dressmaker, Grace is allowed to work at the governor of her penitentiary ‘s place. Grace ‘s travels within both prison and society consequences in the exceeding figure of Judgess surveilling her. The blurred of prison between society echos Foucault ‘s carceral metropolis and Grace as the possible exclusion to his theory: she is non rather normal to be judged wholly guiltless and non unnatural plenty to be condemnable to pine away in prison indefinitely. In fact, her artlessness, or saneness even, remains problematic despite the figure of Judgess. Her societal Judgess believe in her artlessness: Reverend Verringer, a clergy work forces convinced of her artlessness, heads the commission to free Grace and is responsible for garnering protagonists, including Dr. Jordan and Dr. Jerome Dupont. The Governor ‘s married woman employs Grace and arranges parties to convey together people who support Grace ‘s release, although she does n’t make bold allow Grace manage crisp objects and garbages to hold Grace in the house at dark. However, her Judgess in the penal system disagree: Dr. Bannerling, the manager of the refuge Grace one time resided at, remains house in his opinion that although Grace is surely sane, she is besides guilty as wickedness and refuses to help any effort in her release. Grace ‘s ain attorney, Kenneth Mackenzie, is convinced that Grace is “ guilty as wickedness ” ( Atwood 378 ) . Dr. Jordan, nevertheless, the chief figure of judgement nevertheless, remains open and even overpowered by Grace.

A possible account of Grace ‘s ability to get the better of Foucault ‘s theoretical system may lie in her Judgess incapableness to decently exert their power. These Judgess, particularly Dr. Jordan, is incapable of being a proper agent of power. Without the existent cognition of Grace ‘s true nature or the true history of the offense, Dr. Simon is unable claim the power to command Grace. While Grace is “ cool as a Cucumis sativus and with her oral cavity primmed up like a governess ‘ ” Dr. Jordan is “ fustigating my encephalons, and seeking in vain to open her up like an oyster… ” ( Atwood 132 ) . Grace does non yield meekly to Dr. Jordan ‘s relentless wonder, but alternatively combats it with her selective and calculated narrative. Grace ‘s narrative is a dual edged blade to both her and Dr. Jordan: it may be the damnatory grounds or the elusive possibility of flight, it may be his or her arm. Rather than stating debased truth, Grace “ set work willing to state my narrative, and to do it every bit interesting as I can, and rich in incident ” ( Atwood 247 ) , “ did non give him a consecutive reply ” ( Atwood 132 ) , ponders “ What should I state him… ? I could pick out this or that for him, … to provide a touch of colour. I could state this… ” Grace manages to state every bit small as possible, or every bit small as possible of what Dr. Jordan wants. Grace has merely told Dr. Jordan what she ‘s chosen to state, although what he wants is what she refuses to state, or what she chooses even to cognize ( Atwood 353 ) . It ‘s non as though Grace does n’t bask Dr. Jordan ‘s company, but instead “ she appears to welcome them, and even to bask them ; every bit much as one enjoys a game of any kind, when 1 is winning ” ( Atwood 362 ) . Dr. Jordan realizes the switch in power, and the great disparity of it as good: “ … the truth eludes him. Or instead it ‘s Grace herself who eludes him. She glides in front of him, merely out of his appreciation, turning her caput to see if he ‘s still following ” ( Atwood 407 ) but is incapacitated to change the disadvantageous balance. Rather, Dr. Jordan must meekly apologize and warmly encourage Grace to go on her narrative, her misrepresentation, and her absolute conquer.

Grace ‘s adaptability in the carceral society nevertheless is due to her mastermind control. Grace is exceptionally perceptive and frequently makes profound commentary as she observes the universe around her and learns from it ‘s mistreatment of her. Her apprehension of the carceral civilization allows her to understand the mechanisms and how to respond and pull strings the factors in her favour. Foucault claims that the presence and omnipotence of the carceral civilization will ensue in either two effects for an person: the internalisation of the system or the isolation, or even riddance, of said single. Grace nevertheless, does neither ; she ne’er genuinely internalizes the system but succeeds in being released from the penitentiary. Grace ‘s little Acts of the Apostless of rebellion and oddity surface throughout the full narrative although she is cagey plenty to keep a convincing fa & A ; ccedil ; ade that she has “ normalized ” in forepart of her Judgess. “ I have been rescued, and now I must move like person who has been rescued. And so I tried. … Indeed, I am non rather used to it yet. It calls for a different agreement of the face. ” ( Atwood 443 ) “ He has come to prove me. But I do n’t state this. I look at him doltishly. I have a good stupe expression which I have practiced. ” ( Atwood 39 ) . While she “ come into the room and curtsey and move approximately, oral cavity straight, caput set, and I pick up the cups or put them down, depending… ” and has her “ custodies folded in my lap the proper manner. ” ( Atwood 22 ) , Grace is haunted by hallucinations of ruddy paeonies and in secret dreams violent, unusual things such as the slaying of her siblings, the materialisation and fusion of the dead, sexual interaction with decease, etc.

A possible counter statement can be made oppugning Grace ‘s power ; after all, the reformation of the penal system, the internalisation of self-denial, the reformation to standardization, was to return the condemnable dorsum to society. Grace ‘s release, hence, was non by her ain making, but of the natural procedure of the penitentiary system. One must stress, how Grace has non internalized the self-denial advocated by the penal system and society. This rejection is made peculiarly obvious in the really last chapter of the book, when Grace has been released and settling into society. Enjoying in her freedom and holding small else to fear, Grace begins to uncover tale-telling marks that alternatively of normalizing, she has merely begun to demo her true oddity. Among the list of commonplace inside informations such as the veggies she grows and pets she raises, the peculiar inside informations of furniture or her hubby ‘s wonts, Grace literalist of Foucault may besides reason that because the carceral is present everyplace, including society, Grace is non genuinely free of the system. This is true ; nevertheless, although Grace and those around still resides in the system, it is made more evident that these citizens, these non-convicts, are every bit unusual as she is. From Grace ‘s hubby sexual rousing from narrations of her past agony, Dr. Jordan ‘s ulterior compulsion of Grace, and general downward spiral of the staying characters, the system itself is flawed, although enduring.

Grace, instead, gustos in her control of power and condemns the weak. Grace makes many mentions of her refusal to meekly oblige or her detest of failing throughout her narrative: “ I am non a Canis familiaris. ” ( Atwood 39 ) , “ She was a timid animal, wavering and weak and delicate, which used to anger me. I wanted her to be stronger, so I would non hold to be so strong myself. ” ( Atwood 105 ) , “ … and I was ashamed of myself for allowing myself be tricked and imposed on in this manner, and for being so blind and foolish. ” ( Atwood 255 ) and in possibly the strangest remark of all, “ It is non the perpetrators who need to be forgive ; instead it is the victims, because they are the 1s who cause all the problem. If they were merely less weak and careless, and more farseeing, and if they would maintain from drop the balling into troubles, think of all the sorry in the universe that would be spared… Leting themselves be done to decease in the manner that they did, and for go forthing me behind with the full weight of it. ” ( Atwood 457 )

At the very terminal of the book, Grace plans the inside informations of her comforter she has long desired to do. Her Tree of Paradise form, nevertheless, shall be different ( the conscious and continuity antipathy to standardization that Foucault ‘s penal system purportedly instills ) . For illustration, the boundary lines, Grace describes serenely, may look likes vines or a overseas telegram form to others but will truly be truly snakes. This echos how others may comprehend and judge otherwise from what Grace is genuinely stating, or who she genuinely is ; or the presence of serpents may mention to the serpent of Adam and Eve: of cognition and immorality. The manner Grace ‘s forms deviate from the normal, from the figure of trees, to the colourss and forms, reinforces how Grace is really much still the same individual as she of all time was, before or after the penal system procedure. Therefore, Grace is non so much as a victim but a rebellious subsister, and even a figure of power.


  • Atwood, Margaret. Alias Grace: a Novel. Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Pantheon, 1977.
  • Felluga, Dino. “ Modules on Foucault: On Panoptic and Carceral Society. ” Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. 28 Nov. 2003. Purdue University. 13 March 2010. & A ; lt ; hypertext transfer protocol: // & A ; gt ; .

Nancy Nguyen

Lenss Analysis Essay: Margaret Atwood ‘s Alias Grace and Michel Foucault ‘s Discipline and Punishment

UWS 14B: The Soul of Science

Beloved Reader,

This peculiar essay has given me the most problem, both in footings of the complexness of the two texts and the personal trouble it was for me to construe how they interacted with each other. However, after several plausible theories and useless bill of exchanges, I daresay I ‘m satisfied with the concluding merchandise.

That ‘s non to state that there are no alterations that I ‘d wish to implement if I were to compose a 2nd draft- after all, this is technically the first bill of exchange of this essay with this peculiar thesis. I felt that I lacked in figure and strength of converting grounds. Direct citations seemed unequal and the following clip I would trust to make more close reading. My decision could be stronger excessively.

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