Themes and Characters
With simple clarity, Munro shows how the realities of the world outside her family life begin to creep into the life of a young girl. "Walker Brothers Cowboy" follows a young narrator, never expressly named, as she accompanies her father, a traveling salesman, on a day that begins with a walk to town and winds up at the house of an old female acquaintance, Nora. Despite the short length of the story, the reader is able to gain a firm grasp of the characters, particularly of the narrator, her father, and Nora.
The narrator is sharp as a tack, yet she moves slowly through her narration, pausing to consider her life in greater context. It is clear from the outset that she is on the verge of young adulthood—in the first paragraph, the reader learns that the narrator leaves her mother in the middle of a fitting for a dress in order to go for a walk down to the lake with her father. She notes that her clothes have to be made from hand-medowns and odds and ends, and that she is "ungrateful" for her mother's efforts and for the feel of itchy wool rubbing against her. The fact that she describes the experience as a kind of ritual—noting how her brother sometimes kneels in his bed a certain way and calls out for an ice cream cone—tells the reader that the narrator is shedding her identity as a girl with her mother. Though she still behaves as her mother prescribes, her mind is opening to outside influences.
Through the course of the story, the narrator undergoes a subtle emotional shift. It happens in relation to the experiences she shares with her father. She accompanies her father on his drive with vague reluctance, knowing what is in store during the course of the trip—long drives down unpaved, dusty roads, and waiting in the car while her father disappears inside another farmhouse with his suitcases packed full of Walker Brothers products. However, once the car stops at Nora's house, which is off the father's regular sales path, the children are allowed out of the car once their father reveals himself to Nora and they re-familiarize themselves with one another. The narrator grows bolder at each step of the story. Whereas she never talked to any of the people of Tuppertown, and never got out of the car when her father was trying to make a sale, at Nora's she gets out of the car and enters the house, where she comes face to face with an old blind woman.
Blind! This is the first blind person I have ever seen close up. Her eyes are closed, the eyelids sunk away down, showing no shape of the eyeball, just hollows. From one hollow comes a drop of silver liquid, a medicine, or a miraculous tear.
She allows the new experience to wash over her, taking in the blind woman in the same way she might examine a new puppy. Later, she peruses the rooms of Nora's house, taking everything in at full volume, allowing her preconceived judgments to coalesce with all the newness she is experiencing. She sees pictures of Mary on the wall, assumes Nora must be a Roman Catholic, and recalls what her grandmother and aunt used to say to describe Roman Catholics. "Soand- so digs with the wrong foot, they would say. She digs with the wrong foot. That was what they would say about Nora."
A few minutes later, she sees Nora pour some liquid into glasses for Nora and the narrator's father. This moment, and the narrator's reaction to it, provides a turning point, for it is at this moment that the narrator makes a conscious choice to understand from an adult perspective.
She and my father drink and I know what it is. Whisky. One of the things my mother has told me in our talks together is that my father never drinks whisky. But I see he does. He drinks whisky and talks of people whose names I have never heard before.
The narrator realizes, with some suddenness, that her father has a whole life outside of their family, and outside of his...
(The entire section is 1615 words.)
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Nora is an old girlfriend of the narrator’s father. She lives with her old, blind mother in a farmhouse. She has never married, a fact that causes her some bitterness. However, she still demonstrates a zest for life, chatting happily and dancing with her visitors. Nora is unlike many people the narrator has met; for one thing, she is Catholic. But the narrator is drawn to her, despite a certain coarseness of appearance (as typified by her profuse sweating, fleshy bosom, and the dark hairs above her lip).
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The narrator’s father is a man who does his best to keep up the spirits of his family, despite their recent financial hardships. His tenaciousness is indicated by his holding onto the family fox farm until it was impossible to keep it any longer. Now, he uses that same quality to try and make the best of his new job as a ‘‘pedlar.’’ He makes up songs to amuse himself and exaggerates what happens on his job— even the more unpleasant incidents—to make his family laugh. His visit to Nora demonstrates that he, like his wife, feels drawn to the past.
The mother continually expresses her discontentment with the present status of her family. She denigrates her husband’s job, refuses to allow her children to play with the neighbors’ children, and overall finds nothing redemptive in their present life. She...
(The entire section is 500 words.)