The Model Prisoner: Reading Confinement in Alias Grace


This article explores the complex physical and psychological space of the prison in Margaret Atwood’s acclaimed historical novel Alias Grace (1996). Rather than understanding the imprisonment of the convicted nineteenth-century “murderess” as an aberration, this article argues that it is part of a spectrum of confining and repressive institutions that have defined Grace Marks’s existence. Yet despite obvious restrictions, Grace uses the prison setting and her interviews with the young psychiatrist Dr. Simon Jordan for her own ends, engaging in a form of self-therapy that disturbs these seemingly top-down power relationships. This article suggests that by using storytelling as a means of escape and empowerment, Grace positions her narrative within recognizable tropes in prison literature, but her challenges to the cathartic power of narrative can be read as exploring the epistemological limits of prison narration.

This article “The Model Prisoner: Reading Confinement in Alias Grace” originally appeared in Prison Writing. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 208 (Spring 2011): 12-28.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.