In Alice Munro's "How I Met My Husband" what are the struggles Edie faces  between rebellion and respectability?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Alice Munro's "How I Met My Husband," Edie is fifteen and is a young woman worried about respectability.

I don't see Edie as rebellious; she tries to act appropriately, and only struggles with respectability later—not because she has done anything terrible, but because of how others perceive her behavior.

Edie works for the Peebles family, keeping house and taking care of the children. Mrs. Peebles, the wife of the town veterinarian doesn't like chores, so Edie is hired to live at the Peebles' home and keep house.

She worries about acting appropriately. First, she hides her mother's doughnuts under her bed because she never feels like she gets enough to eat. When the children find them, she shares the food, but then makes them promise not to mention it so she doesn't get into trouble—inferring that somehow, the Peebles might find it inappropriate:

I used to bring back a box of doughnuts made at home, and hide them under my bed. The children found out, and I didn't mind sharing, but I thought I better bind them to secrecy.

Edie seems to have a strong sense of what she believes is respectable behavior. There are her baths, for instance:

I had a bath in there once a week. They wouldn't have minded if I took one oftener, but to me it seemed like asking too much...

When Chris Watters, the pilot who has come to town to give plane rides, comes to the house, he finds Edie clothed in one of Mrs. Peeble's fancy dresses when she answers the door. The others are away, so she decides she will need to visit Watters to ask him to keep "the dress" a secret.

She thinks about Mrs. Peeble's reaction if she knew:

[She] might not fire me, when she found out, but it would give her a different feeling about me altogether.

Edie is savvy enough to know that when working for someone, they want a certain amount of privacy—they would expect Edie to refrain from curiosity (and of course, dishonesty), but they also expected her "not to notice things." Edie understands and doesn't want Mrs. Peebles to think differently of her.

When Edie does visit Watters, she is nervous and he offers her a cigarette which she takes not because she is rebellious:

I couldn't even shake my head to say no, so he gave me one.

Wearing the dress is not an act of rebellion—just innocent "dress up." However, asking for Watters' silence bothers her. He asks:

"Are you scared I'll tell on you? Is that it?"

I was so ashamed at having to ask him to connive this way I couldn't nod. I just looked at him and he saw yes.

Watters agrees to keep her secret.

In a couple of days, Watters' fiancée (Alice Kelling) shows up, though he doesn't seem very excited to see her—they go out for a drive and when they return, they separate, without a kiss or hug.

At the end, Edie's respectability comes into question when she goes so see Watters once more—curious why he is not giving rides. She takes him cake and gives him a message about his fiancée's return. He declares that he will be gone long before Alice returns. Then he begins to passionately kiss Edie—and she kisses him. She leaves, though he promises to write to her.

When Alice returns and finds Watters gone, she become suspicious of Edie, and calls her a "little country tramp." When accused, Edie thinks she was intimate with Watters because they kissed. Alice says she is "a loose little bitch," but Mrs. Peebles knows nothing really happened.

While not rebellious, Edie is careful to do the right thing, and is still very innocent.


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How I Met My Husband

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