The Progress of Love Critical Essays

Alice Munro


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Munro’s fiction is lovingly crafted and artfully constructed, yet there is no feeling of artificiality or manipulation of the reader. This effect, which is so difficult to achieve, comes about partly because Munro’s voice is so often ironic. Never bitter but sometimes rueful, this irony is important in maintaining equilibrium in her stories. After the near-drowning in “Miles City, Montana,” the mother imagines what the family’s life would be if Meg had not been rescued, but she tells herself that this is a shameful and “trashy” thing to do, which saves the story from becoming highly emotional speculation and therefore much less effective. Similarly, in “Eskimo,” Mary Jo seems to experience a sort of enlightenment about her long-standing affair with her employer after she sees the slavish devotion of a young girl to a much older man. Munro’s ironic voice can also take the form of juxtaposition of a young, innocent character who is observing events and a worldly or more cynical version of that character who is explaining them.

Because her stories, though brief, are very complex, Munro often uses two characters’ points of view or a “limited omniscient” narrator. This technique also allows revelation of another of her important themes: the “editing” of memory, its inaccuracy, and its sudden surprising power to illuminate present events. In the title story, a woman recounts two versions of a family event: one as she has told it to others (to illustrate to them her definition of love) and one as she remembers it. Both versions are necessary for the reader’s full understanding of this chapter. Munro achieves a strong sense of the complexity of everyday life by such sure employment of various points of view and little reliance on chronological time. “White Dump,” “A Queer Streak,” and “The Progress of Love” all span five or six decades and center on family relationships between the generations. All stress the simultaneous hurtfulness and irresistibility of maintaining family ties. In “White Dump,” the characters related by blood are shown to have similar obsessions (stubbornness and...

(The entire section is 872 words.)