Clearly, there is a double edge to Munro’s stories. The novel not only is about Del but also is the record of her own growth as a writer. As narrator and protagonist in each of the eight stories in Lives of Girls and Women, the reader witnesses not only significant episodes in her own life but also those snapshots of the lives of women she has known who enrich and inform hers. It is important that the definite article, “the,” is left off the title. These are “lives,” not “The Lives,” of girls and women. In this novel, Del’s initiation takes on a more universal quality, becoming a lens through which every woman’s movement toward selfhood and adulthood is elucidated.
Del’s experience of the eccentric (literally, that which is “off-center”), becomes the open door through which she discovers the eccentricity of all women in a male-dominated world. This revelation increases her powers of observation, narration, and empathy for her sisters living under the constraints foisted upon their gender.
The only other fully developed character in the novel besides Del is her mother, Ada. Del is fond of quoting things that she remembers her mother telling her at various junctures in her life, and in these anecdotal portions, Ada becomes as real and as vibrant as Del herself. All the other characters in the stories are peripheral, but precisely because of their pronounced periphery, they stand out. Munro appropriately concludes the novel by having Del craft an epilogue that explores how the truth of the extraordinary nature of the peripheral in everyday life can be told in fiction, captured in the lives of the “dull, simple, amazing, and unfathomable deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum.”
Del Jordan, the protagonist and narrator, who lives in Jubilee, a small town in Ontario, Canada. Each of the eight chapters of this “autobiographical” novel presents a new stage in Del’s coming-of-age. She begins the story as a curious child, becomes an academically successful but not very popular student, takes a lover, and becomes a writer. As the chapters unfold, she confronts for the first time the idea of death, gradually recognizes the complexity of her relationship with her mother, desires passionately but ultimately rejects religious affiliation, and engages in initial sexual experiments that are as awkward as her first genuine romance is fulfilling. Finally, she makes the painful decision to leave Jubilee and to abandon conventional small-town life in favor of the independent life of a writer. Although Del emerges as both a witty and a highly intelligent woman, it is an unyielding sense of independence that most characterizes her. Each chapter of the book demonstrates her reluctance to be constrained by traditional interpretations both of the world and of womanhood, a reluctance that often evokes pathos because it is coupled with her keen sympathy for those who accept such interpretations. She discovers in the course of writing her first novel, based loosely on her experiences in Jubilee, that whatever truth she captures about the people and their town ultimately is itself an interpretation; it is, however, hers.
Ada (Addie) Morrison Jordan
Ada (Addie) Morrison Jordan, Del’s mother. She is a middle-aged, intelligent woman who yearns for more culture and freedom than the traditional, small-town world of Jubilee can provide. She makes attempts at broadening her horizons by joining Great Books clubs and by selling encyclopedias. Her emphasis on education as the way to escape from Jubilee certainly influences Del. Despite her unconventional rejection of religion and her avid faith in the future liberation of women, she remains steadfastly traditional in her views concerning sex, possibly because she views any attachment to a man as ultimately destructive of a woman’s potential to live her own life.
Garnet French, Del’s first, genuine love, a handsome, poor, Baptist backwoodsman. He was a drinker and...
(The entire section is 1,716 words.)