Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Canada During the Depression
When the New York stock market crashed in October 1929, Canada almost immediately felt the effects...

(The entire section is 990 words.)

Setting

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Ms. Munro was born, lives in, and largely writes about the same part of the world— rural southwestern Canada. This is also the setting of...

(The entire section is 559 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
‘‘Walker Brothers Cowboy’’ is told in the first person narrative voice, meaning that the events of the...

(The entire section is 756 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Munro chooses a first person narrator to tell the story in "Walker Brothers Cowboy." What is most interesting about this narrator is her...

(The entire section is 875 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Munro writes about a poor family. This is never specifically spelled out; rather, she constantly hints at the family's situation through the...

(The entire section is 536 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1920s: In the decade before the depression, Canadian society is almost equally split between urban and rural. About 4.4 million people...

(The entire section is 263 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Characterize the narrator's relationship with her father. Does it change over the course of the story?

2. What is the...

(The entire section is 174 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. What does it mean to be "poor"? What affects does it have on a family? How does it define the way they live?

2. How...

(The entire section is 235 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

This story was written in the 1960s, but takes place in the 1930s. How do you think Munro’s perception of her childhood years may have...

(The entire section is 269 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

No other stories by Munro use the same characters as those in "Walker Brothers Cowboy." However, the scenes set by the author echo throughout...

(The entire section is 181 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Eudora Welty’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Optimist’s Daughter (1972) explores the bonds between a mother and daughter as...

(The entire section is 288 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Rasporich, Beverly Jean. Dance of the Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro. Edmonton, Alta., Canada: University of...

(The entire section is 123 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Sources
Blodgett, E. D., Alice Munro, G. K. Hall and Company, 1988.

Dahlie, H., Review of Dance of the...

(The entire section is 271 words.)

Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Franzen, Jonathan. “Alice’s Wonderland.” The New York Times Book Review, November 14, 2004, 1, 14-16.

Howells, Coral Ann. Alice Munro. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1998.

McCulloch, Jeanne, and Mona Simpson. “The Art of Fiction CXXXVII.” Paris Review 131 (Summer, 1994): 226-264.

Moore, Lorrie. “Leave Them and Love Them.” The Atlantic Monthly 294, no. 5 (December, 2004): 125.

Munro, Sheila. Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing Up with Alice Munro. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2001.

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(The entire section is 86 words.)