Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)
Lives of Girls and Women is a unique contribution to young adult fiction, both in its gritty portrayal of small-town life and in its depiction of female sexuality. Before its publication, few female coming-of-age novels existed, and none that documented the complex rites of passage so thoroughly. Although other novels discussed female sexuality, few traced its development from childhood to adulthood, and those that did so typically made the protagonist pay a price for her experimentation.
Lives of Girls and Women is significant also for its analysis of gender roles and its portrayal of the religious and social underpinnings in rural communities. Other works, including Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (1974), Who Do You Think You Are? (1978; also as The Beggar’s Maid, 1979), The Progress of Love (1986), and Friend of My Youth (1990), explore similar themes in the farms and small towns of southern Ontario. Alice Munro, a self-described “anachronism,” writes about characters who have roots, and “most people don’t live that kind of life any more at all.” Numerous critics have linked her works with the stories of Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, two writers who also described in thorough detail characters enmeshed in their communities. Although Munro does not write solely for young adults, Lives of Girls and Women and many of her short stories describe the heartaches and triumphs of the female adolescent experience with a vividness that few writers can master. Without sensationalizing, Munro captures adolescents at crucial, often painful moments of discovery. The rich detail of her characters’ lives helps to soften harsh realities and shed light on the interrelationships of family, community, sexuality, and the natural world.