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14.Construction of Sex -Full

14.Construction of Sex -Full

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CONSTRUCTION OF SEX, GENDER AND CLASS IN MARGARET ATWOOD’S
ALIAS GRAC
MS SHAISTA IRSHAD
1
& RASHMI GAUR 
2
 
1
Visiting Faculty, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Motilal Nehru National Institute of TechnologyAllahabad, India
2
 
Professor, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, India
ABSTRACT
This paper seeks to deconstruct and destabilizes the mythical narratives and historical accounts that approves andconfirms the truth of the dominant power. It is explored how the construction of masculinity and femininity is deeplyintertwined with differences in power between working class, middle and upper class people. Undermining the essentialistnotion of gender and sex as fixed and biologically given, it is shown that how identities are constructed in language anddiscourse which itself is dominated by those who occupy the positions of power. It is further explained that gender is notonly a social and cultural product but also varies according to other differentiating features as, class, ethnicity, sexuality,and other facets of identity.
KEYWORDS:
 
Gender, Sex, Class, Construction, Performativity, Discourse
INTRODUCTION
Margaret
Atwood‘s Novel
 Alias Grace
(1996) is the winner of the 1996 Giller Prize, Finalist for Booker Prize andGovernor 
General‘s Award
in 1996 and also shortlisted for Orange Prize for Fiction in 1997. The novel
 Alias Grace
is based on the real story of a woman named Grace Marks who was convicted of murder of her employer Thomas Kinnear and his house keeper Nancy Montgomery. She, along with servant James McDermott, was found guilty of the murder.When the crime was tried in court, McDermott was hanged to death while G
race‘s
 punishment was mitigated to lifeimprisonment because of 
,
the w
eakness of her sex, and her supposed witlessness‖ (
 AG
538). After completing almostthirty years of her life imprisonment in Provincial Penitentiary in Kingston, she was finally granted pardon in 1872. After that she went to New York State and was never heard of again. The truth of her involvement in the murder was never revealed and it always remained a mystery whether Grace
was ―
a female fiend and temptress, the instigator of the crime,and the real murderer of Nancy Montgomery, or was she an unwilling vi
ctim, forced to keep silent by McDermott‘s thr 
eatand by fear of her own life
‖ (
 AG
538)? It was also not clarified wh
ether she was genuinely ‗insane‘ or feigned madness for 
her liberation from prison, hence,
―the
true character of the historical Grace marks remains an enigma
(
 AG
539).Atwood by rewriting the history of Grace Marks, deconstructs and destabilizes the account of 
―official histories‖
which
approves and ―endorse[s] the ―truths‖ of the dominant power groups‖
and is argued by critic Michael Foucault that
―systems of the dominant power groups are often
synonymous with sy
stems of power‖(qtd. in Vevaina 86
). Atwood presents the construction of masculine and feminine gender as deeply intertwined with differences in power betweenworking class, middle and upper class people. It is argued that
―the domain of gendered meanings‖
is influenced andaffected by ideologies that may be defined in Marxist terms as a
―sets
of ideas which reflect the interests of those membersof society who are dominant econo
mically‖
(Alsop, Fitzsimons and Lennon 80). Negating the essentialist notion of gender as fixed and biologically given, Atwood shows how identities are constructed in language and discourse which itself is
International Journal of Englishand Literature (IJEL)ISSN 2249-6912Vol. 3, Issue 2, Jun 2013, 117-126© TJPRC Pvt. Ltd.
 
118
Shaista Irshad & Rashmi Gaur
 
dominated by those who occupy the positions of power. She proves further that gender is not only a social and cultural product but also varies according to other differentiating features as, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other facets of identity.
Thus Atwood‘s narrative, ―transgresses the margins that
impose fixed conventions of representation
, by breaking the limits of the fixed categories of both gender and genre
and endows Grace Marks with the power to expressand reconstruct
herself by narrating her story thereby, ―giving voice to the one[s] that have been traditionally silenced‖
 (Silveira 300).Grace is continuously influenced by the people around her that mould her in to the stereotype of femininity. Notonly her employers but also the co-workers acquaint her with the conventional idea of femininity. Her friend and
companion Mary Whitney makes her aware about the aim of woman‘ life
:It was a custom for young girls in this country to hire themselves out, in order to earnmoney for their dowries, and then they would marry, and if their husbands proposedthey woul
d soon be hiring their own servants in their turn‖
 
and then they, ―would be
mistress of a tidy farmhouse, and independent. (
 AG
182)In the novel more than human bein
gs, characters, ―marry money‖
(
 AG
65). It is efficiently explained through theexample of Dr.
Jordon‘s mother who expects
her son to get married. She suggests,
―Of course he could always marry
money, as she herself did. She traded her family name and connections for a heap of coin fresh from the mint, and she ismore than willing to arrange something of the sort
for him‖
(
 AG
65).This is also explicated through Governor 
‘s daughter 
Lydia, who though in love with Dr. Jordon, ultimatelymarries Reverend Verringer because of his economically sound status overlooking his older age. Ly
dia‘s marriage, ―was a
surprise, as she always used to make fun of him behind his back,
and say he looked like a frog‖
(
 AG
493).
Beauvoir‘s
explains that
―If a man is reasonably eligible in such matters a
s health and position, she accepts him, love or nol
ove…Marriage then are not generally founded upon love‖(453
)
. Woman tend to ―look for a husband who is above her instatus or who she hopes will make a quicker or greater success than she could‖
(450). Unmarried women are looked down by society, they are criticized, mocked, pitied and treated as incomplete and not fulfilling their feminine destiny.
The ―unmarried woman …
among the workers of the
land …
 
is a pariah‖
(Beauvoir 450). Grace, like other womencharacters, too thinks of getting married and is shown to be morose when she is not able to marry because of the murder charges and life imprisonment. She thinks
, ―
I would never be married now, or have any babies of my own
 
it is a regret‖
 (
 AG
78). On the other hand for men the aim of the life of men is to ach
ieve ―economic success‖.
A
s compared to women, ―no young man considers marriage as his fundamental project‖
(Beauvoir 450). Dr.Jordon
ignores continuous proposals of marriage from his mother‘s side in order to establish himself well professionally
.Though, he does not refrain from flirting with Lydia and establishing physical relation with his landlady Mrs. Humphrey.
The man ―undoubtedly dreams of woman, he longs for her; but she will never be more than an element in his life: she does
not sum up his des
tiny‖
(Beauvoir 352).Despite being financially unstable he dreams of Grace as a
 perfect wife for him, ―she has beauty without frivolity,
domesticity without dullness, and simplicity of manner, and prudence, and circumspection. She is also an excellentne
edlewoman…His mother would have no complains on that score‖
(
 AG
452).
Grace‘s
employer Thomas Kinnear, awealthy Tory gentleman, too remains a bachelor because
,
Some gentlemen do not have an inclination for the marriedstate, she said. [They were very pleased with themselves the way they are, and think they can get along without it
… If theywant a thing, all they have to do is pay for it. It‘s all one to them‖
(257 AG).
 
Construction of Sex, Gender and Class i
n Margaret Atwood’s
Alias Grace 
119
 
De Beauvoir, emphasizing on stereotypical construction of men and women argues that men are not pleased withwoman who openly exhibit their desire for men and marriage,
and who are easily seduced ―young men mistrust women‗who want to get married‘ … Nothing is more disagreeable to a man than to feel himself pursued, to realize that a womanis trying to hook him‖
(
 AG
452). This aversion is quite apparent in Dr. Simon who is pursued by Lydia. When he perceives
the intention of her and her mother‘s, he, ―is alerted: he is familiar with such ruses‖. In order to put th
eir efforts down hethinks o
f revealing, ―the smallness of his income immediately, so as to forestall her‖. Disliking Lydia for her ―innocent‖
advances towards him, he himself has no problem in flirting with her and despite having no intentions of marrying her,
―hedoesn‘t wish to de
 prive himself of 
such an aesthetic pleasure‖
(
 AG
224).
Man encourages these allurements by demanding
to be lured: afterwards he is annoyed and reproachful‖
(Beauvoir 381).Women in
 Alias Grace
are projected as consumable entities existing for the sexual use and consumption of men.Grace witnesses the sexual abuse of women
not only in her mother‘s life but also in
her friends Mary Whitney
‘s
andhousekeeper Nancy Montgomery
‘s
life. She encounters sexually demanding and exploiting men on each step of her life: asmaidservant faces amorous and sexual advances of her employers, as a prisoner is sexually attacked by guards and as a patient of hysteria
is sexually molested by doctors. She is warned of men‘s nature
 by her relatives, women employers andco-workers.
Mrs. Honey instructs her, ―
Behave
modestly… and not speak to
any strangers, especially men
(
 AG
175).Mary too acquaints her with the ways of men, and their perception of women as sexual commodities.
Despite being wary of men‘s ―nature‖ and ways
, Mary dies due to abortion. She falls in the alluring trap of her employer Mrs.
Parkinson‘s son, is sexually exploited and deserted when pregnant, ―the man had promised to marry her andhad given her a ring… but he had gone back in his promise‖(
 AG
200). She was aw
are of her fate as, ―now no decent manwould marry her, and she would have to go on the streets and become a sailor‘s drab‖
(
 AG
201). Nancy too faces similar circumstances at the hands of men. Before working for Kinnear she is involved in a sexual relatio
n with a ―young lay
-
about‖ at Wright‘s who ―ran off and left her‖ when she ―had a baby‖
. After the death of her baby Mr Kinnear hired her even b
eing a ―respectable men‖ as,
 
―it was clear from the first what he‘d had in mind, because once the horse was out
of the stable it was no good shutting the barn door, and a woman once on her back was like a turtle in the same plight, she
could scarcely turn herself right side up again, and was fare game for all‖
(
 AG
296).As a housekeeper Nancy is sexually used by her employer Thomas Kinnear and later on starts living as hismistress. But once Nancy gets pregnant, he starts taking interest in Grace. Grace perceives the declining interest of Kinnear 
in Nancy because of her pregnancy, ―she was in family way, and it often
 
happens like that with a man; they‘ll change fromwoman in that condition to one who is not, and it‘s the same with cows and horses; and if that happened she‘d
be out on
the road, her and her bastard‖
(
 AG
359).Thus we see that construction of gender identity based on differentiation of sex leaves men and women defining
themselves from different positions and spaces, which results in women‘s identity as ‗other‘. As complemented by Grace‘swords, ―Why should the one be rewarded a
nd the other punished, for the same sin
(
 AG
321)?Grace too suffers from sexual harassment not only from her employers but also by other servants, guards of theKingston penitentiary and doctors of lunatic asylum. They all try to sexually harass and molest her. All these sexualassaults are passively endured by Grace except for few muffled groans of protest. Being accused of murder and havingreported by newspapers as the paramour of co-servant McDermott she becomes the target of sexual abuse and
―fare gamefor all‖ (
 AG
296). The prison guards remark in a humiliating manner to Grace:
―You know why God made women withskirts, it‘s so they can be pulled up over their heads and tied at the top, that way you don‘t get so much noise out of them,
I

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