Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose [Who Do You Think You are?] Analysis
by Alice Munro

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Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

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The history of the prepublication revision that shaped The Beggar Maid supports the many critics who suggest readers approach the book as a story cycle, that is, as ten independent interdependent stories which invite the reader to construct and reconstruct interconnected patterns of recurring characters, images, motifs, and themes. (Further support for this claim comes from the fact that eight of the stories were published separately in a variety of magazines prior to being collected and arranged in the cycle.) In brief, the first version of the book contained a group of third-person stories about Rose and a group of stories narrated in the first person by a character named Janet. Three of the original "Janet stories" ("Connection," "The Stone in the Field," and "The Moons of Jupiter") were dropped from the second version and later included in the collection The Moons of Jupiter (1982); the remaining first-person "Janet stories" were rewritten as third-person narratives about Rose. Then, with the book already in the early stages of printing, Munro saw the potential for two new Rose stories, "Who Do You Think You Are?" and "Simon's Luck." These two stories were added, at Munro's personal expense, to the collection for the first time.

The late addition of two stories focusing on Rose's return to West Hanratty reflects Munro's attention to the interconnectedness of the events and experiences of Rose's life. Showing Rose's attempts to claim an exaggerated past as the foundation on which to build social acceptance to be ineffective and transparently melodramatic, and her attempts to dismiss the potency of her ties with West Hanratty as misguided, Munro uses the cycle form to direct our attention to another, albeit much more difficult strategy available to Rose. What Rose comes to acknowledge, and what The Beggar Maid stresses both formally and thematically, is that she must recognize the connections and relationships that, individually and in the aggregate, are integral parts of what she has become.

There is a similar connection between theme and Munro's subtle manipulation of narrative time, a technique which gives many of her stories — including those in The Beggar Maid — a breadth of perspective usually considered the purview of longer literary forms. With all ten stories narrated by a third-person narrator (a perspective Munro began to explore regularly in the collection Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You, 1974) and arranged to give a sense of the chronological development in both Rose's age and character, there is an appearance of linearity to the book as a whole. But each story within this implied chronology moves freely in time. Episodes that at first appear to occur in the historical present blend seamlessly with remembrances of episodes that occurred years earlier. Munro begins "The Beggar Maid," for instance, with a remembered emotion: "Patrick Blatchford was in love with Rose." The past tense "was" provides the opening frame, as it were, for the extended story of Rose and Patrick's courtship at university, their marriage, their subsequent move to Vancouver, and, finally, their divorce. The narrative of these events, however, is an intricate interweaving of episodes in which present tense verbs are privileged and episodes in which past tense verbs and the act of remembering figure prominently. The closing paragraphs of "The Beggar Maid" extend the narrative chronology to include Rose's memory of a moment nine years after the divorce when she sees Patrick in an airport in the middle of the night. Complicating this already elusive temporality is the reader's recognition that the next story in the cycle, "Mischief," begins three years into the marriage of Patrick and Rose, that is, more than a decade before the ending of the preceding story.

The experience of reading The Beggar Maid reflects one of the book's central themes, for just as Rose must strike a balance in her life, learning to attend to her needs in the present while...

(The entire section is 1,577 words.)