Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

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Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series Lives of Girls and Women Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Lives of Girls and Women is a rich and detailed depiction of a girl’s coming-of-age and her coming to terms with her community. Subthemes illustrate the limited gender roles for young women, the power of adolescent sensuality, and the difficulties of accepting death and inevitable decay. The power of this novel lies in Del’s stubborn refusal to be cowed by these daunting unknowns. She is a protagonist who rejects stereotypical views of girls as fragile and easily damaged. This novel of initiation insists that all adolescents can pick and choose from life’s lessons and face the future with confidence.

The major subject of the novel is the challenge for girls to create a healthy identity from the mixed messages of adult behavior. Fortunately, Del is a fearless, independent pioneer who plunges into unknown worlds with open eyes. As Del matures, she discovers that circumstances and intellectual and physical maturity will provide new challenges. Throughout this daunting period of blindly plunging into new experiences armed only with fragmented knowledge, her goal remains the same: to maintain a sense of self and continue to grow—even if this means she bangs heads with those around her.

Shrugging off the dreamy, ethereal haze of typical female coming-of-age novels, Lives of Girls and Women looks straight ahead at the realities of Del’s environment. Del sees both the richness of the natural world of her father’s fox farm and the killing of animals that sustains it. She sees both the inspiration of church hymns and the failure of theology to fill the voids in empty lives. She notes both the optimism of her mother and her teachers and the harsh reality of poverty and failed relationships. She documents both the dreams of her girlfriends and the reality of diminished expectations in marriages dominated by men. She remains sane in this gritty world because she accepts these complex realities, chooses what is valuable, and pushes on.

No novel tracing the path from childhood to adulthood can ignore the difficulties presented by sexuality, and Del is determined to understand its mysteries. She knows that sensuality is a boundary marking the lines between normal and the “magical, bestial act.” She learns from the voyeuristic Mr. Chamberlain, from Jerry Storey’s awkward naïveté, and from the electricity of passion with Garnet French. Although she comes to understand the power of sexuality, she is not destroyed by her experiences, and she does not pay a penalty for experimenting. Unlike her girlfriends, she refuses to connect sexuality with the inevitability of marriage. Rather, she sees sensuality as simply another source of knowledge.

From an early age, Del is aware of different expectations for...

(The entire section is 693 words.)