Meneseteung Style and Technique

Alice Munro

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Munro’s use of everyday details for symbolic purposes is amply illustrated in “Meneseteung.” For example, the fact that the Roth house faces onto a street of undeniable respectability but backs up to a street that terminates in a slum not only makes it possible for someone as genteel as Almeda to come into contact with a drunken, dissolute woman, thus furthering the plot, but also it symbolizes the choice Almeda herself must make, between conformity and freedom, between mindless propriety and alienation from respectable society.

Munro strengthens her symbolic effects by filtering details about her characters either through their own minds or through the minds of others. Thus it is Almeda who notices that Poulter’s clothes are like those her father wore and that, also like her father, he smells of wool and tobacco and shaving soap, all of which Almeda equates with both masculinity and authority. Almeda’s appearance at Poulter’s door in her nightclothes leads Poulter to think of her as a wife because ordinarily no one but a husband would see her so informally dressed, and under the circumstances, there can be no question about her respectability. Later, when Almeda is on the way to bed, she notes that she has remained in her nightgown all day, that she has not washed herself, and that she is tracking grape juice through the house. Almeda herself sees these details as symbols of the dramatic change that has taken place in her mind and spirit. As she says, they show that she now has a different definition of reality.

Munro’s superb craftsmanship is also demonstrated by her handling of voice. The story begins and ends with an unnamed narrator, presenting whatever objective details can be found about a woman who lived more than a century before. Soon, however, the author begins to report Almeda’s thoughts, occasionally making a brief foray into Poulter’s mind. In the final section of “Meneseteung,” the narrator-researcher returns with the two obituaries, a report of the search for Almeda’s tombstone, and finally, an admission that much of what has been presented has been mere guesswork, not fact but fiction. What Munro means the reader to realize, however, is that given Almeda’s definition of reality, the fictional version of what made a woman into a poet may in fact be the truth.