Dr. Jordan explains to Grace that he wants to listen to her story and help her recover her missing memories of the murders. Grace implies that she might tell him lies, but Dr. Jordan remains nonplussed by her answer and promises that nothing bad will happen to her as long as she cooperates.

Analysis: Part III

Part III introduces a range of Grace’s memories that, although they belong to her past, function here to foreshadow the fuller revelation of those memories that will come later in the novel. For example, Grace thinks about a woman named Mary Whitney and a comment she once made about how a lady must never sit on a chair where a man recently sat, lest she feel the warmth “from his bum.” The reader does not yet know who Mary is or what relationship Grace had with her. Yet the tone of Grace’s recollection makes it clear that she felt delighted by Mary’s coarse way of speaking, even if this coarseness also scandalized her slightly. The fact that Grace goes on to think about “the ladylike bums that have sat on this very settee” further demonstrates how Mary has influenced Grace’s own manner of thinking. However, the precise nature of Mary’s relationship to Grace and importance in her life remains to be determined.

Grace expresses contradictory attitudes toward the female guests at the Governor’s house, both criticizing their shallowness and sympathizing with their socially inferior position as women. Grace sees the women’s absurd clothing as a sign of their shallowness. Despite the relative informality of the afternoon gathering, the women insist on wearing dresses covered in frills. Furthermore, the dresses are constructed from stiff material that makes it nearly impossible for the women to sit down. Though the elaborate detailing and stiff construction give the dresses a sense of volume, Grace suspects that these women have much less substance than their massive garments suggest. Indeed, the ladies are as insubstantial as jellyfish, which appear voluminous underwater but dry out quickly when cast ashore. But Grace immediately rethinks her analogy and begins to imagine the women as birds and their dresses as cages meant to keep their legs from rubbing against men’s trousers. Grace recognizes that the women’s stiff dresses serve to police their sexuality and that social convention also dictates that women wear such absurd clothing. In other words, Grace sees these women as prisoners of a patriarchal society.

Grace has strong, negative reactions to men who have authority over her well-being, as demonstrated in the incident when a doctor comes to take measurements of her skull. Even before the doctor arrives to examine her, Grace feels a sense of foreboding. When he enters the room, she worries that he might feel sexually aroused by her and arrange to examine her unobserved. This fear echoes a trauma Grace experienced at the hands of Dr. Bannerling, who sexually assaulted her while pretending to conduct a physical examination. Yet something different happens when the doctor opens his instrument bag. Grace suddenly thinks she recognizes the doctor and, in a burst of fear, she screams and then faints. The specific reasons for Grace’s intense reaction are not immediately clear. The likeliest explanation will not be available to the reader until Part XIII, when hypnosis reveals that Grace either has split personality syndrome or is possessed by the spirit of Mary Whitney. According to the account Grace will give Dr. Jordan in Part VI, Mary died after undergoing a botched abortion, and it’s possible that the “Mary” part of Grace believes this to be the same doctor who killed her.

Grace’s distrust of men also comes through clearly in her suspicious regard of Dr. Jordan, and the way she plays dumb during her first session with him introduces an important question about how much her account can be trusted. When he first comes into her cell, Grace sees Dr. Jordan as another authority figure who wants something from her. Yet even when it becomes clear that Dr. Jordan isn’t like the doctors who have hurt her in the past, Grace remains skeptical. She worries about his intentions, and she feels concerned that his questions will turn into a manipulative guessing game. In response, Grace pretends to be less observant and intelligent than she really is, and she offers him deliberately shallow answers. Grace seeks safety from unknown danger by hiding her true self. Grace’s evasive maneuvers also introduce an important question about her reliability. It becomes clear that Grace can expertly manage which parts of herself to reveal to others, and when Dr. Jordan suspects her of manipulating him later in the novel, the reader will know that his suspicion is correct. But how can the reader be sure that Grace isn’t doing the same thing to us?