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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 219

In this short story by Alice Munro, Rose lives with her father, her stepmother, Flo, and her half-brother, Brian, in a run-down store in the town of Hanratty, Ontario. Her mother has died, and Rose only recalls having lived with her stepmother, Flo. Her father works behind the store in a shed where he carries out furniture restoration. They live surrounded by dilapidated houses.

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Flo amuses herself by gossiping with locals, such as the dwarf Becky Tyde, whose father, a butcher, is badly beaten by local men. Flo spends Saturday afternoons going downtown to shop and to have a sundae, and she comes home to tell the details of her outings to the children. On one spring Saturday when Flo seems restive, she does not go downtown but instead hangs out at home and begins to get into an argument with Rose, whom Flo considers saucy. Flo summons Rose's father, and he administers a rough beating to his daughter. Rose is sent upstairs, and Flo brings her some cream and a tray of food to comfort her. Years later, after Flo, seemingly senile, is placed in an old age home, a grown-up Rose hears an interview on the radio that features one of the men from Flo's stories of Hanratty—one of the men who beat old man Tyde.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 735

Rose, a girl nearing adolescence, lives with her father, her stepmother, and her younger half brother, Brian, in a small town in the Ottawa Valley of central Canada. Her father is a scrupulous furniture restorer who works in a shed behind the family’s home and storefront. His earnings barely suffice to provide the most minimal of family needs. Their house in West Hanratty, a section of the town where the social structure “ran from factory workers and foundry workers down to large improvident families of casual bootleggers and prostitutes and unsuccessful thieves,” is too cramped to provide any private space. The central action of the story takes place during the Depression, a period recalled as one of legendary poverty, when the clash between the aspirations of the members of Rose’s family and the limits of their lives has created a condition of psychic tension that can be relieved only by an explosion of emotion that permits the family to temporarily overcome the frustrations inherent in their situation.

Rose’s relationship with her stepmother has changed from a long initial truce to a continuously simmering conflict. Her father remains vaguely distant most of the time, an inward man whose poetic range of mind is not disclosed to Rose until after his death. Rose sees the inhabitants of Hanratty and West Hanratty as figures of foolishness, pretense, and casual violence; their antics are a means for Flo to support her own shaky sense of self-esteem through scornful dismissal. The absence of any satisfactory social relationships, the minimal resources available for even modest purchases, and the family’s restricted living space compress Rose’s family into a tightly wound, tension-ridden cluster of pulsating neuroses. Their anxieties and desires have been concentrated into a number of rituals devised to express their emotional needs and to alleviate the pressures of their deepest conflicts. The beating is prominent among these, a special event shaped into a dramatic exercise in which each person has an acknowledged role. In Rose’s eyes, it has been exalted into an event that is both savage and splendid in an attempt to validate its importance and accept its unpleasant aspects.

Rose and Flo engage in an ongoing quarrel that escalates into a verbal battle in which each attacks areas of particular sensitivity. Goaded beyond endurance, Flo calls Rose’s father, who enters the arena from his workshed. His arrival...

(The entire section contains 954 words.)

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