In my PhD interview, how could I answer questions about topics relevant to Alice Munro's short stories and their objectives? What kind of hypothesis could I make about her writing?
In a PhD interview, examiners are normally concerned with the issue of whether you are prepared for postgraduate level work on your specific subject. In particular, you want to give the impression that you have a clear PhD thesis topic in mind and are prepared to write about it. There are some slight differences in national traditions, with European degrees being more research-focused and North American degrees incorporating coursework before you get started on your actual dissertation. Thus if you are applying for a British school, you should be further along in your project than would be necessary for a Canadian or North American one.
That being said, wherever you are applying, you should be able to demonstrate deep knowledge not only of the primary texts of the short stories themselves but of the major critical works about those stories and where you intend to position your work within the existing scholarly conversation. A good starting point with a recent bibliography might be:
Buchholtz, Mirosława (Ed.) Alice Munro: Understanding, Adapting and Teaching. Springer, 2016.
When you discuss the stories themselves, you should probably focus on some of the major themes in connection with Canadian literature and identity. You should be prepared to discuss the role of women in the patriarchal society of the Canadian prairies in the mid-twentieth century. You might look at how women are often complicit in the project of patriarchy, with many of the viewpoint characters in the stories having their dreams or creativity suppressed by pressure from other women. Another important point you should raise is the way the present of characters in the stories is shaped by past traumas which can never be entirely escaped or forgotten. Finally, you should be able to address what makes these stories distinctively Canadian in their ethos of modesty and the prairie cultural proclivity towards consensus.
For a hypothesis, you want a topic that makes an original contribution to the study of Alice Munro. It should be narrowly focused but also have some connection to larger concerns in literary studies. Your choice really depends on your own interests and training. Some possibilities would be:
Education in Alice Munro: For this, you might argue that education is shown in Munro's stories as both a path to freedom and an instrument of oppression for intelligent young women.
Women and the First Nations: In the prairie culture of this period, both women and members of the First Nations were oppressed by white patriarchal authority. You might discuss how the cultural oppression of women, especially through education (e.g. in "Who Do You Think You Are?"), is similar to the issues encountered in the Residential Schools and note any mentions of the First Nations in Munro's work.
Ecocriticism: You might argue for the importance of using an ecocritical approach to Munro, hypothesizing that there is a parallel between the way farmers tamed the land for agricultural and the restrictiveness and strong normativity of the culture, and the way it imposed rigid masculine standards on women.
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