Lives of Girls and Women

by Alice Munro

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What elements such as style, meaning, and literary devices are related to the themes in the "Baptizing" section of "Lives of Girls and Women"?

Quick answer:

At the end of "Baptizing," Del realizes that she must take charge of setting and accomplishing her goals in life. These goals will differ from those that her mother and local boys such as Garnet try to impose on her. The author uses imagery, especially expressed through simile and metaphor, to convey the complexity of Del’s sexual experiences. She also uses irony to convey contradictions between Del’s insights and her youth.

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In “Baptizing,” Alice Munro conveys how the protagonist, Del, changes her attitude toward life as a result of a sexual experience, which in turn led to her doing poorly on a test. Del had believed that the pursuit of higher education, and the success to which it would likely lead, were her own goals as much as those of her mother. When she got together with Garnet French, she also believed that she wanted to have a baby with him. However, the combined experience of having her sexual initiation with Garnet and his demand that she embrace his faith led her to question what their future relationship would be like. In turn, her distracted state in considering these matters led to her underperforming on a crucial exam. With her scholarship possibilities destroyed, she must re-envision what her future looks like.

Munro uses vivid imagery in describing Del’s sexual encounters. Early experimentation with Jerry, which does not include intercourse, reveals Del’s disappointment at the physical reality of bodies coming together. This is described not in lyrical, romantic terms but with an unpleasant image through the simile “like sacks of wet sand.” When she does finally have sexual intercourse with Garnet, she is distressed to realize that there are strings attached. He fully expects that she will embrace his faith, expressed through baptism, which he sees as a necessary step to their inevitable marriage. Munro uses the metaphor of burial to convey Del’s distress: Garnet would require her “to be buried alive.”

Del’s refusal to join Garnet’s church, and thus her breaking with him, indicates not only her survival from such a death, but also her rebirth, rather than the birth of his baby, as she finally embarks on what she sees as the authentic version of her life. Munro uses irony in conveying Del’s insights: even as the girl rejects “fantasies” as she starts her “real life,” she evokes the fantasy of being like a character in a movie.

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