Alice Munro is one of Canada’s most critically acclaimed contemporary writers. She is considered a regional writer because her fictions often focus on characters who live in rural Ontario, exploring their lives and culture. Munro has expressed admiration for regional American writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and Eudora Welty, and has stated, ‘‘If I’m a regional writer, the region I’m writing about has many things in common with the American South. . . . [It is] Rural Ontario. A closed rural society with a pretty homogenous Scotch- Irish racial strain going slowly to decay.’’ This society forms the core of many of Munro’s finest story collections, including Dance of the Happy Shades, Lives of Girls and Women, and Who Do You Think You Are?
‘‘Walker Brothers Cowboy’’ was published in Dance of the Happy Shades in 1968. Many readers found the story collection conveyed an accurate portrayal of a quasi-rural Canadian society held in the grip of the Great Depression. The fifteen stories delve into themes of personal isolation as well as social divisions. In more than one story, Munro shows the segregation of the rural people and the town people. She also explores the identities of her characters as they embark on the process of discovering or rethinking who they are. ‘‘The collection’s fifteen stories dramatize the contradictions between life and death,’’ wrote H. Dahlie in his review of the volume in World Literature Written in English
. . . between happiness and despair, between freedom and captivity. . . . The author’s use of a first-person narrator in eleven of these fifteen stories emphasizes her concern with the subjective dimensions of reality, and the fact that the narrator or reflector of the action is in most cases a young and sensitive girl anticipates the shifting nature of this reality.
Critics have continued to return to this collection in the years since its publication. Some examine it in terms of the art of storywriting while others focus on its evocation of Canadian society in a specific historical era. George Woodcock, a Canadian critic, wrote in Queen’s Quarterly that ‘‘Munro offers the portrait of a distinctively Canadian society and does it in a distinctively Canadian way. Her sense of the interplay of setting and tradition is impeccable.’’ Woodcock further declared that the
three stories of childhood, ‘‘Walker Brothers Cowboy,’’ ‘‘Images,’’ and ‘‘Boys and Girls ,’’ are perhaps the most important . . . both for their vivid evocation of the decaying rural life . . . and for their delineation of the...
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