Style and Technique
The most prominent stylistic achievements of “Walker Brothers Cowboy” include its particularly distinctive use of first-person point of view and its tendency to communicate through implication rather than overt statement. Munro relates the story through the eyes of a child even though no child could adequately comprehend the dynamics of its principal actions. The narrator, for example, is too young to fully understand the nature of Ben’s relationship to Nora. Any adult, however, would gather from the details she observes about them that Ben and Nora share a familiarity with each other that could have resulted only from a teenage romance left unresolved by time and circumstance. Thus, the central consciousness of “Walker Brothers Cowboy” is clearly adult despite the fact that its narrator is ostensibly a preadolescent child. This lends a marked sense of irony to the story that underscores its somber, pessimistic tone.
Munro exploits this irony to remarkable effect, using it as way to contrast the difference between the way children and adults perceive the world. A child relates the tale, but its intended audience is clearly adult. No child would see the need to revisit the past, particularly a person’s distant and perhaps obscured past, the way an adult would. However, exploring why people sometimes need to resurrect long-lost feelings and experiences is the thematic locus of the story. Thus, Munro writes “Walker Brothers Cowboy” from the unlikely point of view of a child to reinforce the paradox already inherent in her subject matter. In this way style and theme mirror each other perfectly in the story, which is both bold and memorable in its attempt to merge form and content in highly innovative ways.
Canada During the Depression
When the New York stock market crashed in October 1929, Canada almost immediately felt the effects of what would become a worldwide depression. The United States soon reduced Canadian exports to one third of the pre-depression amount. This act had a drastic effect on the Canadian economy, as Canada sold 40 percent of its exports to its southern neighbor. For instance, the number of cars manufactured from 1929 to 1932 went down from 263,000 to 61,000. Canadian wheat farmers were also undersold on the world market by competitors in Argentina, Australia, and Russia. Coupled with reduced wheat purchases by European countries, this caused the price of wheat to plummet from $1.60 a bushel in 1929 to 38 cents only two years later. Other sectors of the Canadian economy were affected by the slump in wheat, such as the railroad and farm machinery industries. In other parts of Canada, the fishing and pulp industries suffered severely.
In 1930, Canadians voted in a Conservative government. Conservative party leader Richard Bedford Bennett, a wealthy lawyer, promised to bring Canada back into the world marketplace by raising tariffs and putting the unemployed back to work. The new government, however, was unable to keep such campaign pledges, and Bennett led the country in its bleakest days. Between 1929 and 1933, for instance, Canada’s foreign trade dropped 67 percent. By the winter of 1932–1933, the national income had fallen almost 50 percent in just over three years.
During the depression, unemployment rates rose drastically; 400,000 Canadians, out of a population of 10 million, had no work, and a million of those employed had only part-time jobs. Parliament passed increased grants for unemployment relief and for the creation of a public works program. By 1935, 10 percent of the population was on some form of welfare.
The prairie provinces, where the economy depended on the wheat harvest, were the hardest hit overall. Between 1933 and 1937, a drought in Saskatchewan and Alberta destroyed the wheat crop. In the early 1930s, 66,000 people left their homes in Saskatchewan, or one in every four farm families. Eventually, the province went bankrupt and asked the federal government for help to pay relief....
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