Introduction

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Munro, Alice 1931–

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Munro, a Canadian short story writer and novelist, is known for fiction that recalls with precision the texture and detail of ordinary life. Munro herself says that she is "very, very excited by what you might call the surface of life." Munro is preoccupied with the effects of the past, place, and local cultural values on individual life. She won the Governor General's Literary Award in 1969 for Dance of the Happy Shades and in 1978 for Who Do You Think You Are? (See also CLC, Vols. 6, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)

Brandon Conron

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2204

[Alice Munro's writing] captures the flavour and mood of rural Ontario…. During an interview in 1971, after acknowledging Eudora Welty as probably her favourite author, Munro remarked, "If I'm a regional writer, the region I'm writing about has many things in common with the American South…." (pp. 109-10)

Although there are obviously vast differences between Munro's own country and the American South, some attitudes are common to both societies: an almost religious belief in the land and the old rural cultural values; a sense of the past and respect for family history, however unremarkable or bizarre it may seem to outsiders: a profound awareness of the Bible which is reflected in the very language and images of speech; and a Calvinistic sense of sin.

Also influential in Munro's artistic development was journalist James Agee's experiment of integrating photography and text…. (p. 110)

[Her] intense feeling for the exact texture of surfaces and the tone of responses makes far greater demands than any cinemagraphic technique can adequately meet. It requires a style more akin to what in contemporary painting is often called "magic realism." Among those loosely categorized in this group, Alice Munro has noted a particular appreciation for the American Edward Hopper's paintings of ordinary places—a barber shop, seaside cottages, a small town street, roadside snack bar or gasoline station. Canadian painters like Alex Colville, Tom Forrestal and Jack Chambers have also influenced her. While all of these artists express themselves in individually different styles, the overall impression which they convey is one of acute perception of their environment. They exercise the selectivity of the expert photographer; yet by some personal, humanizing stroke each object or nuance in their painting somehow appears to have a special significance in its relationship to the rest of the picture. There is a kind of illusionary three dimensional aspect, a super realism or magical and mysterious suggestion of a soul beyond the objects depicted, which leaves the viewer participant with greater insights and an increased sensitivity towards the world around.

Such an impression Alice Munro can create in her extended images, which often evoke in the reader an intuitive awareness of a story's entire impact. In Dance of the Happy Shades this technique can be observed in a number of descriptive passages. Frequently the author arrests or suspends motion before returning to action, as in the still painting description from "Thanks for the Ride" of a typical small town near Lake Huron, after the summer vacationers have gone home…. (pp. 110-11)

[While such Southern writers as Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, Reynolds Price, and Eudora Welty] undoubtedly influenced Munro's descriptive style, it was their expression of the profound dignity of even the most trivial events of every day life to which she especially responded. Later, when she first discovered Patrick White through his Tree of Man …, this feeling for the inherent beauty of every earthly thing was reinforced: for her, too, a lowly ant or a gob of spittle could be...

(The entire section contains 4640 words.)

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