Study Guide

Grace in Passion

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There Must Be More Than This Provincial Life

Grace is a lot like Belle from Disney's Beauty and the Beast. She's curious, independent, and she wants so much more than this poor provincial life.

Unfortunately for Grace, she doesn't live in a fairytale. Real life always seems to fall just a little bit short of fairytale expectations. For instance, when it comes to romance, Grace has a kind of fairytale narrative in mind:

He would see her – perhaps he would have brought a chair to be fixed—and seeing her, he would fall in love. He would be handsome, like Maury. Passionate, like Maury. Pleasurable physical intimacies would follow. (65)

We've all probably had similar fantasies—ideas of romance in which we play the part of the Handsome Prince or the Beautiful Princess, and after much trial and tribulation we find our one true love and live happily ever after. That's a really appealing possibility, and it's tempting to try and make it conform to your own life story. For Grace, her Prince Charming fantasy goes as follows: Someday she'll be a chair caner, not looking for love or expecting it to find her, when one day Prince Charming enters the chair caning store and says, "Wow. I came here to get my chair caned, but you're super awesome and I love you and would very much like to live happily ever after with you."

Great Expectations (and Disappointments)

So if Maury matches Grace's image of Prince Charming, why isn't she happy? Maury loves her, so why doesn't she love him back? Throughout the story, Grace is forced to realize how expectation can lead to disappointment, how maybe the story she wants to live isn't possible or even real.

Grace is intelligent and driven. She graduates high school late because she took so many classes and passed a bunch of examinations—including physics and algebra, which "were considered particularly hard for girls" (27). What's more, when Grace tries to tell people why she did this, that she wanted to soak up as much knowledge as possible while it was still free, everyone (with the exception of Mrs. Travers) says something like, "you must have been crazy" (30).

Grace is trying to find her place in a world where science and math are generally considered "hard for girls," a world where knowledge that has nothing to do with your job is considered useless, and the things we hope will make us happy (like romance) often don't live up to our expectations. So when Mrs. Travers supposes that our passion gets pushed behind the washtubs as we get older, maybe she's articulating the stakes for Grace's life. It's like we're watching her battle all the things that might make her lose her passion. 

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