Meneseteung Summary
by Alice Munro

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Meneseteung Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Meneseteung” begins with a description of a book of poems, dated 1873, and of its author, Almeda Joynt Roth, as she appears in a photograph. In her preface to the book, Almeda explains that in 1854, when she was fourteen, her family moved to a part of Ontario, Canada, that was then just being settled. There her father’s business prospered, and he built a comfortable home for his family. However, within the next six years, her sister, her brother, and her mother all died, leaving Almeda to keep house for her father until his death twelve years later. According to her preface, she wrote poetry to occupy her time and to help assuage her grief. The unidentified narrator concludes this section of the story with summaries of several poems and a brief comment on verse forms.

In the second section of the story, the narrator draws on the local newspaper, the Vidette, for details about daily life in 1879 in the small Ontario town where Almeda lived. It is then pointed out that Almeda’s house faces on a respectable street, but that the back bedroom, where she sleeps, looks out on a section into which no decent woman would venture. The researcher also relates information in the Vidette concerning Almeda’s neighbor, Jarvis Poulter, a prosperous widower.

The narrator notes that though Poulter often walks Almeda home from church, he has not yet made a declaration of his feelings. Almeda often wonders what marriage to him would be like. Then one hot Saturday night, she is awakened by noises in the street below. A woman is being beaten. Although Almeda feels she should do something to help, she cannot find the courage to venture into that back street. When the sounds stop, she fears that the woman may have been killed, but in the end, Almeda goes back to sleep. At daybreak, she looks out of the window again, and to her dismay, she sees a motionless figure on the ground just outside of her fence. Hastily putting on a robe over her nightclothes, Almeda goes down to investigate. The woman is not moving. Certain that she has been killed, Almeda runs next door to get Poulter. However, when he prods the woman, he discovers that she is not dead but just dead drunk. Contemptuously, he gets her up and sends her away.

The episode has an odd effect on Poulter. Seeing Almeda in her night clothes, her hair flowing free, for the first time, he can imagine her as his wife, and he takes a significant step in courtship by announcing that he will return later that morning to walk her to church. However, Almeda is both physically ill and emotionally disturbed. She leaves a note on the front door, informing Poulter that she is too unwell to go to church and then locks herself into the house. All day she sits motionless, while words and images flood into her mind. She concludes that she must write poems, or a poem, called “The Meneseteung.” Finally she goes up to bed. She knows what her future holds.

The final section of the story begins with two death notices from the Vidette. One announces Almeda’s death in 1903, the other, Poulter’s, in 1904. “Meneseteung” ends with the narrator’s uncovering Almeda’s grass-covered tombstone, on which is carved only one word, “Meda,” a name used in one of her poems.


(Short Stories for Students)

The first section, like all of the other sections of ‘‘Meneseteung,’’ starts out with a short piece of poetry by Almeda Joynt Roth, a nineteenth-century woman. The narrator, whose gender is never noted, gives some background about the publishing details of Roth’s one and only book, Offerings , and then gives a description of Roth herself, based upon a photograph that the narrator is looking at in the front of the book. The narrator quotes from the preface of the book, which gives a short history of the poet’s life, including her family’s move to the frontier of Canada West (modern-day Ontario) and the death of her entire family. Roth talks about her love of poetry, which she turned to because she lacked the skill for other crafts...

(The entire section is 1,672 words.)