Alice Munro

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Discussion Topics

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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

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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.

Achievements

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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

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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?

Bibliography

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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...

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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 inOf Mice and Men (1937).

Clark, Miriam Marty. “Allegories of Reading in Alice Munro’s ‘Carried Away.’” Contemporary Literature 37 (Spring, 1996): 49-61. Shows how the stories in Munro’s Friend of My Youth and Open Secrets dismantle the foundations of realist narrative, figuring or disclosing the many texts in the one and so refiguring the linked practices of writing and reading; claims that “Carried Away” addresses allegorically the politics of the library and the ethics of reading.

Crouse, David. “Resisting Reduction: Closure in Richard Ford’s ‘Rock Springs’ and Alice Munro’s ‘Friend of My Youth.’” Canadian Literature, no. 146 (Autumn, 1995): 51-64. Discusses how Ford and Munro deal with the problem of realistic closure and character growth in their short stories by manipulating time. Shows how they use various narrative devices to give more interpretive responsibility to the reader.

Goldman, Marlene. “Penning in the Bodies: The Construction of Gendered Subjects in Alice Munro’s ‘Boys and Girls.’” Studies in Canadian Literature 15, no. 1 (1990): 62-75. This essay presents a study of conflict between the adult voice and the child’s idealistic perception of reality.

Heble, Ajay. The Tumble of Reason: Alice Munro’s Discourse of Absence. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Hiscock, Andrew. “‘Longing for a Human Climate’: Alice Munro’s Friend of My Youth and the Culture of Loss.” The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 32 (1997): 17-34. Claims that in this collection of stories, Munro creates complex fictional worlds in which character, narrator, and reader are involved in the business of interpreting versions of loss, tentatively attempting to understand their function and status in a mysteriously arranged reality.

Martin, Walter. Alice Munro: Paradox and Parallel. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1987. An analysis of Munro’s use of narrative techniques and language. Complemented by an excellent bibliography of her writings.

Mayberry, Katherine J. “‘Every Last Thing Everlasting’: Alice Munro and the Limits of Narrative.” Studies in Short Fiction 29 (Fall, 1992): 531-541. Discusses how Munro’s characters use narrative as a means of coming to terms with the past, how they manage their pain by telling. Argues that most of Munro’s narrators come to realize the imperfections of narrative because of the incongruence between experience and the story’s effort to render it.

Murphy, Georgeann. “The Art of Alice Munro: Memory, Identity, and the Aesthetics of Connection.” In Canadian Women: Writing Fiction, edited by Mickey Pearlman. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993. Discusses a number of recurring characters, themes, and concerns in Munro’s short stories, such as writing as an act of magical transformation, familial connection, death as a violent upheaval, and sexual connection inflicting psychic pain.

Noonan, Gerald. “The Structure of Style in Alice Munro’s Fiction.” In Probable Fictions: Alice Munro’s Narrative Acts, edited by Louis MacKendrick. Downsview, Ont.: ECW Press, 1983. A study of Munro’s stylistic evolution from Dance of the Happy Shades to Who Do You Think You Are?

Nunes, Mark. “Postmodern ‘Piecing’: Alice Munro’s Contingent Ontologies.” Studies in Short Fiction 34 (Winter, 1997): 11-26. A discussion of Munro’s postmodernist focus on narrative strategies. Argues that quilting and piecing in the stories are metaphors for narrative. Instead of suggesting a disruptive postmodernism, quilting in women’s writing functions as an icon for the recuperation of fragmented traditions into a healed whole.

Rasporich, Beverly. Dance of the Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1990. A very interesting analysis focusing on male/female contrasts and relationships in Munro’s fiction. Augmented by a critical bibliography.

Redekop, Magdalene. Mothers and Other Clowns: The Stories of Alice Munro. New York: Routledge, 1992

Ross, Catherine Sheldrick. Alice Munro: A Double Life. Toronto: ECW Press, 1992. A literary biography by a scholar who has written extensively on Munro’s fiction.

Sheldrick Ross, Catherine. “‘At Least Part Legend’: The Fiction of Alice Munro.” In Probable Fictions: Alice Munro’s Narrative Acts, edited by Louis MacKendrick. Downsview, Ont.: ECW Press, 1983. A study of the way in which Munro’s characters perceive legendary qualities in real life experiences.

Smythe, Karen E. Figuring Grief: Gallant, Munro, and the Poetics of Elegy. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1992. A generic study of Munro’s stories based on the premise that her fiction, with its emphasis on loss and the importance of story telling as a way of regaining knowledge of the past, enacts a poetics of elegy.

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