The Beggar Maid comprises ten stories, many of which were initially published in The New Yorker and other literary and popular magazines between 1977 and 1978. The Beggar Maid was released first in Canada as Who Do You Think You Are? (1978). Some critics view the compilation as a loose-fitting novel. The stories are arranged chronologically, beginning with Rose’s recollections of childhood.
In each story, the action focuses on Rose at a certain stage in her life but ends with a reflection that Rose has gained from a distance. Thus, the story “Royal Beatings” begins by recounting the whippings Rose received as a child but ends with Rose describing Flo’s old-age decline. Munro says that her process for writing a story is not like following a road, but like building a house. The action goes back and forth like movement from room to room in a fictional dwelling, allowing Munro to connect past and present seamlessly.
The title story, “The Beggar Maid,” marks the center of the collection. Rose leaves home to experience university life. When she meets Patrick Blatchford, she accepts the young man’s admiration but feels she cannot adequately return his love. She resents his upper-class status as much as she wants to escape her impoverished roots. In this relationship, as with others in the story cycle, Rose finds that she does not trust people. Her attempts to achieve a better life are often stymied by her own shortcomings. She fails to value and accept others as they are, and she often puts on an act as though her life were a stage play or radio drama.
Early on, Rose realizes that she is different. She has aspirations far beyond the confines of Hanratty, Ontario. Like Francie Nolan, in Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), Rose faces brutality in school and rock-hard poverty in her neighborhood, but she still dreams of a better life. However, Munro’s heroine is less hopeful than Nolan. Rose realizes that Hanratty’s poverty is not just wretchedness and deprivation,...
(The entire section contains 525 words.)
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- Critical Essays