What happens when a girl gets dumped? This is the problem faced by the main character in Alice Munro’s “An Ounce of Cure.” The narration is first person point of view with the protagonist, an unnamed teenager, serving as the narrator.
The setting is a conservative southern town in 1960s. The town does not really like drinking. When the narrator was in the seventh grade, she signed an alcohol abstinence pledge. Her mother never drinks and her father has an occasional beer outside of the house. Surprisingly, almost no teens drink either.
The narrator babysits and has been labeled as really reliable. She primarily babysits for some new people in town who do keep alcohol in their house.
At the beginning of the school year, the narrator goes crazy about a boy named Martin. She thinks of him as her Prince Charming. He gives her the “first kiss.” In two months, he dumps her for another girl.
The narrator is heartbroken. She cries and thinks about him constantly. One night, she tries a half-hearted suicide attempt. She takes six pills and stops. Each pill represented her feelings: sorrow, anguish, depression, heartbreak, confusion, and frustration. Mom notices something is wrong. She tells her mother about Martin. Without thinking about the daughter’s feelings, she just tells the narrator that it was for the best.
The Conflict Intensifies
The next weekend, the narrator babysits for the new people, the Berrymans. She spots the alcohol in the kitchen. It is like a hidden treasure that might help her heart. She pours a glass full of vodka with a half ounce of scotch. She drinks the entire thing and is satisfied that it has helped ease the hurt. Of course, then it hits her.
She is drunk. She vomits everywhere including on the new rug and herself. She has friends come over who help her. The Berrymans come home early, and she is fired on the spot. She tells the Berrymans everything from the boy to the suicide attempt to the drinking to the throwing up.
The Falling Action
Mr. Berryman takes her home and makes her tell her mother everything. Her mother tells a friend and all of the narrator’s friends tell their friends. By Monday morning, the narrator has earned a new reputation which makes it sound like she is totally irresponsible and sinful. The incident changes her.
In the end, she forgets about Martin. What changes her? It was the reality of the situation. If what happened to her happened at parties, it was not worth it.
I had had a glimpse of the shameless, marvellous, shattering absurdity with which the plot of life, though not of fiction, improvises. I could not take my eyes off it. I suffered a great deal from all of the exposure.
The girl goes off to college and gets married. She comes back home for a funeral. Martin has become an undertaker. They see each other and give each other a knowing smile.
The narrator is a dynamic character. As the story evolves, she changes and matures after her horrible drinking experience. She faces the problem of accepting who she is and learning to live in the present and make good choices. She is able to survive that Saturday night and make a new beginning.