Style and Technique
Like many of Munro’s stories, this one has a tone of charming intimacy and confidentiality about it, mediated in this case through the double perspective of its first-person narrator. Edie tells her story as a memoir: She is no longer the fifteen-year-old romantic, but the middle-aged Mrs. Carmichael who understands what her younger self did not and could not.
Perhaps more than anything else, it is Munro’s remarkable gift of rendering her central characters as persons one can know, understand, and feel close to that attracts one to her work. Even the less sophisticated characters such as young Edie often yield meanings that surprise by their depth and spirituality, meanings that flow from the author’s deft touches of detail through her character’s perception: Loretta hooking her legs around the chair rung; Alice’s freckled and wrinkled fingers; and especially Edie remembering Chris after all these years, not bitterly for the unkept promise, but almost wistfully for the kisses, the kindness in his face, and the words, “I wouldn’t do you any harm for the world.” Such authentic detail animates both style and character and rewards the reader with moral significance and aesthetic delight.
The story takes place in the country, about five miles outside an unidentified town, soon after the end of World War II. Critics assume the locale is Ontario, Canada, but nothing in the story explicitly indicates that. Rather, this story could take place in a rural area outside many small towns during the late 1940s or early 1950s, whether in the United States or Canada.
Various details contribute to the sense of place and time. “Cars were in short supply then, after the war,” Edie tells us when explaining why Mrs. Peebles, though comparatively wealthy, does not have a car of her own. Mrs. Peebles’s house, however, has all the era’s new appliances, such as an automatic washer and dryer as well as a double sink in the kitchen, which Edie did not have in her own home on the farm. Edie’s domestic values also contribute to a sense of time and place. She is appalled, for example, that Mrs. Peebles does not know how to bake pie or biscuits and prefers Jell-O or fruit out of a tin for dessert. Mrs. Peebles’s bathroom décor suggests the postwar period: “The basin and the tub and toilet were all pink, and there were glass doors with flamingoes painted on them, to shut off the tub.” If the kitchen provides a site for Edie to enact homespun values of womanhood, in the bathroom she begins to understand her sexuality: there, in the three-way “mirror all steamed up and the air like a perfumed cloud,” she would admire herself “naked, from three directions.”
The emptiness of the setting—the fact that, across the way from the Peebles’ house, there is a place “where the fairgrounds used to be”—signifies the possibilities in Edie’s life. Because “the barns and display sheds [had been] torn down now for scrap lumber...there was nothing in the way” to prevent Chris Watters from landing his airplane, a symbol of the future, and turning Edie’s life around by doing so. Watters himself lives in a tent near the old fairgrounds, indicating his own transience: a man who has not yet decided who he is, a man without the roots that Edie so clearly is able to put down even in the place she works as a hired girl.
However, there is another setting, implicit rather than explicit in the story, which is Edie’s home, a farm nearby. At home, rather than having a double sink in the kitchen, she washed dishes “in a dishpan with a rag-plugged hole on an oilcloth-covered table by light of a coal-oil lamp.” At home, rather than using a washer and dryer, her mother would “struggle with the wringer and hang up and haul down” the clothes. At home, rather than taking pears out of a tin for dessert, she would bake a pie, for her mother taught her the maxim “have a house without a pie, be ashamed till you die.” Indeed, when she...
(The entire section is 1,098 words.)