In "Royal Beatings" by Alice Munro, how does Rose recall times of joy as well as times of terror?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Munro's gift in this story is her ability to weave together the good times with the bad and offer nuance in the characterizations of Flo and Rose's father. Both offer us a mix of traits, some more or less desirable, making these flawed parent figures seem like real human beings.

...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Munro's gift in this story is her ability to weave together the good times with the bad and offer nuance in the characterizations of Flo and Rose's father. Both offer us a mix of traits, some more or less desirable, making these flawed parent figures seem like real human beings.

The story's climax is a beating Rose receives from her father—one Flo, her stepmother, goads him into. However, Flo is not a stereotypical evil stepmother, and her father can hardly be reduced to a stereotypical abuser. Rose, by trying to offer a full context for the beating she describes, shows a life that had joyful (or at least happy) moments as well as bad moments.

Happy times as well as slaps and beatings come from Flo. Rose remembers Flo holding her on her lap, which is hard and angular, showing that Flo has enough affection for her stepdaughter to let her sit there. The two children, Rose and her brother, wait eagerly at the grocery store on Flo's day off to hear what kind of sundae she ate while out. Flo is a good storyteller and clearly the kind of person who makes the best of whatever situation she is in. For example, it is she who opened the grocery store in the front room of the house they live in, doing her part to make ends meet in tough times. She is also double jointed and, when she wants to, will amuse them with her body antics, of which they are all proud.

Rose's father, too, is a complicated man. Rose finds after he dies that he kept journals mentioning reading the philosopher Spinoza. A furniture refinisher and restorer, he tries, during the Depression, to give people high-quality work for very low prices—and we are told he continues this after the Depression is over and people can afford to pay more. All of this shows a sensitive, thoughtful, kind side to his nature that is at odds with beating his daughter.

Even after the "royal" beatings, a ritual that Rose recalls the entire family is ashamed of, Rose has some good memories mixed with the anger, pain, and abjection she experienced. She remembers an abashed Flo, her build-up of anger dissipated, bringing up cold cream for her to sooth Rose's soreness, trying to talk to her kindly, and most importantly, doing her best to make up for what happened with a tray of food:

Later a tray will appear . . . A large glass of chocolate on it, made with Vita-Malt from the store . . . Little sandwiches, neat and appetizing. Canned salmon of the finest quality and reddest color . . . A couple of butter tarts from a bakery package, chocolate biscuits with a peppermint filling.

The aftermath of the beating is not a joyous memory, but it does show Flo awkwardly trying to show compassion and make amends. Most of the happy memories flow from Flo—from her storytelling, her energy, and her ability to make them all laugh. The story shows adults sometimes acting badly in an environment of poverty and frustration but also offering kindness.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team