What is the larger meaning of The Beggar Maid as Munro provides a complex portrait of love and the failure of love in describing the relationship between Rose and Patrick? And does Munro endorse and/or subvert romantic love ideology in her story.
With the American title of "Who Do You Think You Are?" Munro's story relates the strange relationship of a wealthy young man and a working-class young woman in "The Beggar Maid," titled after a Pre-Raphelite painting in which a prince marries a beggar. As titles often hold much significance, the reader may wish to examine the possibility of double entendre: the painting of the maid who is a beggar, and the beggarly relationship of Patrick to Rose. Which relationship is it--What roles do the main characters play; "who do they think [they] are?"
In her Gothic novella, The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Carson McCullers writes of the "joint experience" between two persons; there are the lover and the beloved, and McCullers contends,
...these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored up love which has lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover know this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer.
In the lover's suffering, then, he must create "a whole new inward world." And, it matters not what the object of his love is, for "the value and quality of any love" is determined "solely by the lover himself." As the active part of the love relationship, the lover is what most want to be because the state of being loved is
...intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him/her only pain.
With his "beggarly" relationship with his beloved Rose, Patrick as lover, therefore, suffers. Truly, Rose grows to detest Patrick.
...his chivalry and self-abasement, next door to his scoldings, did discourage her.... Her conviction that anyone who could fall in love with her must be hopelessly lacking, must finally be revealed as a fool? So she took note of anything that was foolish about Patrick, even though she thought she was looking for things that were masterful, admirable.
This relationship is not an ideal romantic one, by any means. On more than one occasion, Rose feels "outrageous and cruel things were being shouted inside her," and she feels the need to suppress these feelings. It is this combination of attraction and revulsion that Rose, as beloved, feels. And, these conflicting emotions are what effect the fights, the break-ups and make-ups of their marriage as Patrick loves some image he has formulated for Rose,stripping her of her real identity, making her the "damsel in distress" that he once rescued in the college library, and she is repulsed by his constant need for reassurance; "she didn't like worship." Rose finds herself irritated and miserable often in the relationship, "sick of herself as much as him." In the end, after their many conflicts and resolutions in which Patrick compromises himself each time, Rose becomes the enemy, and does not understand why. But, it is because she has caused him such pain that Patrick makes "that face" that recognizes his "true enemy."