Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Royal Beatings” is the first story in Alice Munro’s collection The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose (1978). While each story is designed to stand as a single entity, the gradual accumulation of information about the two women and the continual intertwining of their lives achieve a novelistic scope. The effects of time’s passage across decades of the characters’ lives and the operations of memory in selecting details vital to a specific version of reality are two of Munro’s essential concerns. “Royal Beatings” uses these motifs to show that a large part of a person’s life often is hidden beyond what is immediately apparent to people who are close to them.

This story is anchored in Rose’s consciousness and addresses a question Flo poses in a typical moment of anger: “Who do you think you are?” The query is supposed to keep Rose in her place, but as the query echoes through the stories in the collection and eventually becomes the title of the last story, it is evident that it is a guiding precept for Rose’s exploration and establishment of a sense of self. This inquiry into the formative elements of personal identity is centered in the combative manner of communication that marks Flo and Rose’s relationship—a mixture of taunting and sharing, probing and concealing, that implies an active dislike but which is actually a cover for fear and suppressed curiosity. Because a mood of contention dominates the story, those...

(The entire section is 501 words.)