Walker Brothers Cowboy by Alice Munro

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Characters

(Short Stories for Students)

Nora Cronin
Nora is an old girlfriend of the narrator’s father. She lives with her old, blind mother in a farmhouse. She has never married, a fact that causes her some bitterness. However, she still demonstrates a zest for life, chatting happily and dancing with her visitors. Nora is unlike many people the narrator has met; for one thing, she is Catholic. But the narrator is drawn to her, despite a certain coarseness of appearance (as typified by her profuse sweating, fleshy bosom, and the dark hairs above her lip).

The Father
See Ben Jordan

Ben Jordan
The narrator’s father is a man who does his best to keep up the spirits of his family, despite their recent financial hardships. His tenaciousness is indicated by his holding onto the family fox farm until it was impossible to keep it any longer. Now, he uses that same quality to try and make the best of his new job as a ‘‘pedlar.’’ He makes up songs to amuse himself and exaggerates what happens on his job— even the more unpleasant incidents—to make his family laugh. His visit to Nora demonstrates that he, like his wife, feels drawn to the past.

Mrs. Jordan
The mother continually expresses her discontentment with the present status of her family. She denigrates her husband’s job, refuses to allow her children to play with the neighbors’ children, and overall finds nothing redemptive in their present life. She lives in the past, fondly recalling prior days of tranquility and greater wealth, and she tries to draw her daughter into these fantasies. The mother also resists any attempts at enjoying her life, such as when her husband tells funny stories about his sales calls, but occasionally even she can’t help but laugh.

The Mother
See Mrs. Jordan

The Narrator
The narrator is a preadolescent girl who lives with her father, mother, and younger brother. She demonstrates a level of maturity beyond her years. She is responsible and insightful. She also is finely attuned to what goes on around her. She notices the subtlety in words and expressions and uses this information to better understand the people around her.

The narrator has a close, companionable, and trusting relationship with her father. She is able to learn important lessons from her father even while she understands that he has failed the family in significant ways, particularly economically. By contrast, the narrator has a much more difficult relationship with her mother. She sees through her mother’s pretensions and is embarrassed by them. Partially because of this comprehension, the narrator is unable to respect her mother. She continually resists her mother’s efforts to form an alliance, instead tacitly empathizing with her father and his values.

The narrator’s relationship to people outside of her family is not made clear in the story. However, it seems that she is fairly isolated from her peer group both because of her mother’s snobbism and because of her own maturity.

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

With simple clarity, Munro shows how the realities of the world outside her family life begin to creep into the life of a young girl. "Walker Brothers Cowboy" follows a young narrator, never expressly named, as she accompanies her father, a traveling salesman, on a day that begins with a walk to town and winds up at the house of an old female acquaintance, Nora. Despite the short length of the story, the reader is able to gain a firm grasp of the characters, particularly of the narrator, her father, and Nora.

The narrator is sharp as a tack, yet she moves slowly through her narration, pausing to consider her life in greater context. It is clear from the outset that she is on the verge of young adulthood—in the first paragraph, the reader learns that the narrator leaves her mother in the middle of a fitting for a dress in order to go for a walk down to the lake with her father. She notes that her clothes have to be made from hand-medowns and odds and ends, and that she is "ungrateful" for her mother's efforts and for the feel of itchy...

(The entire section is 2,115 words.)