Lives of Girls and Women, Alice Munro’s only novel, is more a collection of connected short stories narrated by its protagonist, Del Jordan, than a fully conceived and unified narrative. Each of the novel’s eight chapters is a basically self-contained tale that reveals one more significant set of facts about Del’s evolving identity specifically her coming of age in the small Ontario town of Jubilee.
The novel begins with “The Flats Road,” an important retrospective of an episode in Del’s childhood. In this chapter, she is first awakened to the romance of everydayness, when the world outside her parents’ peaceable home clashes with the kingdom of the chaotic and eccentric exemplified by misfits such as Uncle Benny, whose world was “a troubling distorted reflection, the same but never at all the same.” These early experiences train Del to focus on the details of life and not merely the broad shadows that individual lives sometimes cast.
Thus, what one critic calls “the symbolic geography of the book” is set, and Del emerges as a “chameleon” adventurer, surveying the land before her while she sharpens her senses for a future career as a writer. The subsequent episodes in Lives of Girls and Women survey the various models of womanhood that Del meets in Jubilee. There is, at one extreme, Naomi, Del’s closest friend, who fulfills the “expected” role of ingenue, wife, and then mother, who “settles down,” resigning herself to the familiar roles common to other Jubilee women. At the other extreme is Marion Sherriff, a wholly disenfranchised young woman, an unfortunate daughter in an unfortunate family, who takes her own life rather than live with the shame of motherhood out of wedlock
Del, however, seeks a life of the mind, wanting men to love her, but not at the expense of her unique calling and gifts as a woman. Ada, Del’s mother, thus surfaces as the most dominant and significant woman in her life. Though considered by Del’s aunts and local townspeople as a “wildwoman” because of her erratic, sometimes...
(The entire section is 529 words.)