Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Walker Brothers Cowboy” primarily concerns three major themes: the consequences of economic decline on middle-class families in rural postwar Canada, the dilemmas and epiphanies of a young girl on the brink of adolescence, and the multiplicity of identities even the most commonplace of individuals may possess and even cultivate as a way to deal with material hardship and accompanying feelings of relative powerlessness. Alice Munro interweaves these themes into a tale that extends beyond the bounds of a mere coming-of-age story and explores how all people—regardless of age—deal with the struggle to assert and confront their ever-evolving notions of self.

The story paints a picture of life in rural Ontario in the 1940’s and 1950’s that is far from nostalgic. The narrator unflatteringly describes it as reminiscent of the Great Depression. Every locale in “Walker Brothers Cowboy,” from the Jordans’ home to the countless doorsteps on which Ben peddles his wares are described in terms of regretful decline. Ben has had to give up the family business as a fur trader and is forced to make ends meet through commission sales. Prospects are similarly bleak for his peers; Nora mentions that her brother-in-law also struggles to stay steadily employed and that she herself is struggling to support herself and her disabled mother. Her home is filled with furnishings that are well past their prime, and her front door threatens to fall from its hinges for...

(The entire section is 473 words.)


(Short Stories for Students)

‘‘Walker Brothers Cowboy’’ takes place in Canada in the 1930s, a decade when that country— like so many others...

(The entire section is 931 words.)