Themes and Meanings
Under scrutiny by Alice Munro, the ordinary becomes extraordinary; the bits and pieces of lives an errant look, a remembered epithet, a lingering impression come together to form the composite meaning of an individual’s life. Del’s own conclusion, voiced in the epilogue to her narrative, equally befits the style and substance of her creator: Like Del, Munro strives to record “every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together radiant, everlasting.”
Lives of Girls and Women momentarily moves its cast of characters beyond their ordinary trials into the realm of the heroic and tragic, the prose counterpart of an Edward Hopper painting. Though set in a southwest Ontario town, Jubilee is Everytown, while Del both is and is not Everywoman.
Alice Munro has few peers in her ability to explore and amplify the significance of the seemingly minor incidents of everyday life. There is a decidedly understated, supremely ironic grasp of the mundane that permeates all of Munro’s stories and that climaxes in this novel. Consequently, Lives of Girls and Women, ostensibly a “novel,” is best read as a series of discrete narratives woven together not by a plot, but by the overall thematic structure of a young woman moving into adulthood and sexual maturity by paying attention to the details of the landscape before her.