Alice Munro Analysis

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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What types of initiation do Alice Munro’s characters undergo?

Examine Munro’s treatment of the various relationships between women. What kinds of male-female relationships does she explore?

Munro was one the first women writers to explore frankly all aspects of sexuality from a female perspective. How does her treatment of this subject differ from that of male writers you have read?

What techniques does Munro use to conceal information in a story, and what are their effects?

How do her frequent departures from chronological time affect a story?

How does she employ the device of double vision to enrich a story?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The line between long and short fiction is sometimes blurred in Alice Munro’s work. Although principally a writer of short fiction, she has also published a novel, Lives of Girls and Women (1971), which she prefers to view as a group of linked stories. On the other hand, some reviewers, including author John Gardner, have suggested that the stories in The Beggar Maid are so intricately related that the book could be viewed as a novel. Most critics, however, treat it as short fiction.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Alice Munro has gained recognition as a consummate writer, principally of short, psychological fiction. She received the Governor General’s Award (Canada’s highest literary award) for Dance of the Happy Shades, The Beggar Maid, and The Progress of Love. Her novel Lives of Girls and Women won the Canadian Booksellers Association Award in 1972, as did Open Secrets in 1995. In 1990 the Canada Council awarded her the Molson Prize for her contribution to Canada’s cultural and intellectual life. In 1977 and 1994 she received the Canada-Australia Literary Prize, and in 1995 Open Secrets won the W. H. Smith and Son Literary Award for the best book published in the United Kingdom. Munro received the National Book Critics Circle Award from the United States in 1999 for The Love of a Good Woman.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Many of Alice Munro’s characters grow up in a small town. How does the provincial culture influence their adult lives?

How do Munro’s characters face the problems associated with their aging and accept the inevitability of their mortality?

In Munro’s stories, relationships between men and women, especially between husbands and wives, are examined. What seems to be the primary difficulties encountered in these relationships?

In Munro’s stories, do women have a harder time achieving autonomy than do men? Explain why this would be so.

Munro does not pass judgment on her characters. She suggests that the truth can never be known with any certainty. As seen in some of her stories, what are some of the obstacles to discovering the truth?


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Blodgett, E. D. Alice Munro. Boston: Twayne, 1988. This volume provides a general introduction to Munro’s fiction. Supplemented by a useful critical bibliography.

Canitz, A. E. Christa, and Roger Seamon. “The Rhetoric of Fictional Realism in the Stories of Alice Munro.” Canadian Literature, no. 150 (Autumn, 1996): 67-80. Examines how Munro’s stories portray and enact the dialectic between legend-making and demythologizing; discusses techniques that Munro uses to adapt the opposition between fiction and reality to the expectations and ethical beliefs of her audience.

Carrington, Ildikó de Papp. Controlling the Uncontrollable: The Fiction of Alice Munro. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1989. A good critical study of Munro’s fiction. Includes a bibliography.

Carrington, Ildikó de Papp. “Talking Dirty: Alice Munro’s ‘Open Secrets’ and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.Studies in Short Fiction 31 (Fall, 1994): 495-606. Discusses Munro’s foregrounding of language in three categories: spoken language, written language, and body language, primarily in “Open Secrets.” Analyzes Munro’s use of deferent kinds of language to interpret what has happened and to conceal secret, dirty meanings under innocuous surfaces. Traces the story’s allusions to Steinbeck’s Lennie in Of Mice and Men (1937).

Clark, Miriam Marty....

(The entire section is 1,351 words.)