(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

“Runaway,” the first story in Alice Munro's collection of the same title, concerns two runaways: Carla, whose abusive husband, Clark, inspires her to run away, and Sylvia, her neighbor who encourages Carla's runaway attempt. Sylvia's husband has passed away, and she comes to rely on Carla for help around her house and develops an obsessive concern for her abused friend. Sylvia's friends describe her affection for Carla as a crush. While Carla resents Clark's abuse, it seems apparent that without Sylvia's planning and urging she would not have taken a bus out of town, only to get off the bus and call Clark to come and get her. Significantly, Carla, who is wearing some of Sylvia's clothes, decides that the clothes do not “fit” her.

Sylvia, who later moves to an apartment in town, also may be considered a runaway. Besides the two women, there is another runaway: Flora, Carla's pet goat, who mysteriously vanishes and returns in supernatural fashion when Clark threatens Sylvia physically. The goat's sudden appearance saves Sylvia, and then Flora again vanishes. After Carla returns to Clark, she finds Flora's bones in the woods. She speculates about how Flora died and then absolves Clark of any guilt—something she has to do if she is to go on living with him. In effect, she runs away from the truth; Flora's fate could become hers.

As in The Moons of Jupiter (1982), Runaway contains three stories featuring the same protagonist, in this case, Juliet. Like many of Munro's characters, Juliet is an intellectual who does not “fit” into society. A classical scholar, she is out of place in a traditionally male field, and she has been encouraged to get out of academia and into the “real world.” When she receives a letter from Eric Porteous, a man she once met on a train, she leaves the school where she teaches and goes to Whale Bay, where Eric lives. Upon arrival, she finds that Eric's wife has died and that her funeral had occurred that day. Eric spends the night with Christa, with whom he has been having an affair. He then returns home to find Juliet and “claim” her. They eventually marry.

If chance provides a happy ending (Christa even becomes Juliet's friend and confidante), time will alter Juliet's happiness. In “Soon,” she returns to her hometown with her daughter, Penelope, named after Homer's character in the Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.), to see her parents. The unsuccessful return to the past to resolve relationships is another of Munro's themes. Juliet discovers that her parents’ marriage has deteriorated as her father's independent streak and her mother's onset of senility have increased the gap between them and left them complaining about each other to Juliet. Juliet's obsession with a painting titled “I and the Village” also indicates that she is aware of her own lack of belonging in the community; to the villagers, she is “the girl who speaks Latin.”

She decides to write to Eric that “I don’t know what I’m doing here. I can’t wait to go home.” At the end of the story she reconsiders and thinks that her home is with her parents and that her duty is to “protect, as best you can …what happens at home.” Unfortunately, when her mother reaches out to her, she cannot or will not reply. Instead, she turns her attention to cleaning up the kitchen. The last line, “She had put everything away,” applies not only to dishes but also to her parents. She has, in effect, run away again, this time from relationships.

In “Silence” Juliet reaps the results of not having responded to her mother; Penelope runs away from her. Since the events in “Soon,” Eric has drowned and, in classical Norse fashion, his body has been set out to sea on a burning boat. Juliet has become a television personality who specializes in interviews. This is ironic, as Juliet does not communicate well with her own daughter. As “Silence” begins, Juliet travels to the Spiritual Balance Centre, where she is informed that Penelope has experienced loneliness and unhappiness.

Juliet dismisses the comments about Penelope, but the “silence” continues, broken only by an occasional birthday card from her daughter, some not even signed. When Juliet visits her friend...

(The entire section is 1733 words.)