Lives of Girls and Women Masterpieces of Women's Literature Lives of Girls and Women Analysis
by Alice Munro

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Masterpieces of Women's Literature Lives of Girls and Women Analysis

Lives of Girls and Women is an intensely female story of initiation. Del loses her innocence through sexual experience, loss of confidence in her family, and questioning of religious faith. By juxtaposing Del’s everyday experience and the darker world of the tabloids, suicide, tragedy, and despair, Munro explores the doubleness in all people, suggesting that women in Del’s time were forced to live much of their lives in their fantasies. Del’s inner life compensates her for Jubilee’s limitations and provides a way of establishing her identity. Various women in the novel represent different paths that are available to Del: bitterness, eccentricity, domesticity, romance, or the intellect. She tries them all and is dissatisfied, knowing that she must, as her mother tells her, find her own way.

Throughout the novel Del questions the way things are. She looks at her rather ordinary life in a small town and sees complex drama; she sees the dark side to the real world in Uncle Benny’s distorted vision, the selfish side of sexuality with Mr. Chamberlain, and the tragic possibility in an ordinary character like Miss Farris. From the time she was very young, she viewed reading as an escape and a saving grace; books and writing, as she notes in the epilogue, are ways of trying to rescue the past and impose order and understanding on it. Reading leads her to question authority; her attempt to become religious, as well as her disillusionment, are other ways of rebelling.

The novel is autobiographical in form, but Munro took care to note that it is not autobiographical in fact. Although events have the quality of immediacy, the tone is that of an adult looking back with an attitude of affectionate regret and nostalgia for the woman she once was. Munro pays close attention to detail, making references to clothing styles, songs, jokes, and radio programs popular in Del’s time. Jubilee’s social structure is examined through Del’s mother’s attempts to rise through it and her father’s indifference to social niceties. Munro realistically documents the possibilities for one of Del’s education and background: early pregnancy and marriage, work in a small town until marriage, or the slim hope of going to college on a scholarship. The language is clear and conversational, with many inclusions of extratextual material such as song lyrics, childhood chants, jokes, and book excerpts.

Several of Munro’s important themes are tied to the conflict between Del’s fantasy life and reality. Her romance with Frank Wales, for example, is artificially grounded in the world of the operetta and evaporates after the musical has run its course. Her sexual liaison with Garnet...

(The entire section is 675 words.)