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.

Topics for Further Study

In ‘‘Meneseteung’’ the narrator creates a story by citing fictional news clippings and reconstructing the historical events this fictional paper discusses, filling in the blanks with guesswork. Pick a little-known historical event, and use the bits of information available to create your own historical short story, using your knowledge of the topic to fill in the blanks where necessary.

In the story, Almeda Roth is a female poet. While the townspeople claim her literary gifts as a town treasure, they also believe that she should give them up to get married and take care of her husband. Choose another female writer from the late nineteenth century and write a short biography about her, focusing on how her talents were received by her society.

Research the history of female painters in the nineteenth century, and compare the challenges that they faced to the challenges that Almeda faces in the story.

Draw a map of Canada, circa the late nineteenth century when the main events of the story take place. Identify the general region in which Almeda Roth lives, and, using the geographical clues in the story—as well as any relevant information from the author’s own geographical background— try to pinpoint the specific area where Munro intends the story to take place.

One of the final news clippings in the story describes Almeda as having become an unusual eccentric, but, given the details, it seems likely that Almeda has gone insane. Research the history of insanity in the late nineteenth century, and discuss several methods that were used to deal with the mentally ill. For each method, try to find an actual historical example to illustrate your idea.

What Do I Read Next?

Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919) depicts everyday life in small-town Ohio. This collection of short stories was noted for its subtle, understated qualities and its use of unconventional structure.

In ‘‘Meneseteung,’’ the narrator imagines Almeda Roth in a nerve-medicine-induced delirium in which Roth locks herself inside her house and examines the wallpaper, which she thinks might move at any moment. In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous novella The Yellow Wallpaper (1899), the story consists of ten diary entries by Jane, a wife who gets locked into a room. Her physician husband thinks that the seclusion will help her get over what he assumes is depression. As the story progresses, Jane increasingly relates with a trapped woman whom she envisions living inside the room’s yellow wallpaper.

In Munro’s first book, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), several of the female narrators possess characteristics that keep them isolated from their communities, like Almeda in ‘‘Meneseteung.’’

Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women (1972), a collection of interconnected short stories that some critics refer to as a novel, examines the life of Del Jordan. Del is exposed to the underworld of crime and outcasts on The Flats Road, a seamy area like the Pearl Street region described in ‘‘Meneseteung.’’ The book explores Del’s coming of age as a woman and a writer, including her experiences with sex and religion.

Several critics have noted the photorealistic qualities of Munro’s fiction, including the stories in Friend of My Youth. In Susan Sontag’s landmark essay collection On Photography (1977), the writer thoroughly explores the meaning of photography. Like Munro’s examination of the roles of fiction and reality in the narrative process, Sontag explores the relation between a photograph and the real object that it is meant to represent, including how much truth there is in a photograph.

Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia (1993) involves major characters from two different time periods in the same house who are involved in a mystery that takes place in both eras. Like ‘‘Meneseteung,’’ the modern-day characters help to re-create the historical events. Unlike Munro’s story, audiences see the events literally reenacted by the historical characters, as opposed to having them reconstructed through a narrator who is making educated guesses.

Munro has often been called a regional writer, and she has noted that she was most influenced by another regional writer, Eudora Welty, a woman who set most of her stories in the American South and who also focused on the mundane aspects of everyday life. The Golden Apples (1949), an interconnected collection of stories, features a strong female protagonist who defies the conventions of her southern society by remaining a single and independent woman. Unlike Munro’s works, which are subtle in their discussion of mythological elements and symbolism, this book, like much of Welty’s work, incorporates a heavy dose of Greek mythology and symbolism.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

In ‘‘Meneseteung,’’ Almeda Roth’s family moves to ‘‘the wilds of Canada West (as it then was)’’ in 1854, as Roth notes in...

(The entire section is 802 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
The narration in ‘‘Meneseteung’’ is complex. At first it seems to be a typical third-person-omniscient...

(The entire section is 943 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

Mid-to-Late 1800s: The various provinces of Canada are united into the British-affiliated Dominion of Canada in an event known as the...

(The entire section is 429 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

Munro’s Friend of My Youth (1990) was produced as an abridged audiobook in 1990 by Random House Audio. It is currently out of print...

(The entire section is 84 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Boston, Anne, ‘‘Hidden Reasons,’’ in New Statesmen and Society, Vol. 3, No. 1233, October 19, 1990, pp....

(The entire section is 540 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Franzen, Jonathan. “Alice’s Wonderland.” The New York Times Book Review, November 14, 2004, 1, 14-16.

Howells, Coral Ann. Alice Munro. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1998.

McCulloch, Jeanne, and Mona Simpson. “The Art of Fiction CXXXVII.” Paris Review 131 (Summer, 1994): 226-264.

Moore, Lorrie. “Leave Them and Love Them.” The Atlantic Monthly 294, no. 5 (December, 2004): 125.

Munro, Sheila. Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing Up with Alice Munro. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001.


(The entire section is 86 words.)