Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473
In James Joyce’s short story “Araby,” a work with which Munro is familiar, the young narrator moves effortlessly between his real and imagined worlds, often not distinguishing between the two. In a crucial scene relating a conversation between the narrator and the girl he loves, Joyce uses deliberate ambiguity to allow the reader to feel the intensity of the boy’s imagination. The reader is never categorically sure whether the conversation actually takes place or is fabricated by the highly imaginative youth.
In the crucial scene of her story, Munro also employs the technique of ambiguity to point up, like Joyce, the thin demarcation between fantasy and actuality and to induce the reader to share vicariously in the protagonist’s experience. There are several ambiguous phrases and images. Many sentences overtly suggest that initially it is Rose’s imagination that perceives the tip of the newspaper to be the minister’s hand: “She thought for some time that it was the paper. Then she said to herself, what if it is a hand? That was the kind of thing she could imagine.” Immediately after, she wonders: “What if it really was a hand?” Perhaps the sentence that most emphatically persuades the reader to acknowledge the possibility of ambiguity in Rose’s perception of the seduction is this one: “Her imagination seemed to have created this reality, a reality she was not prepared for at all.”
Rose’s perception of the man’s reclining posture is equally ambiguous. Could he be actually sleeping? As she looks at him, she observes that he “had arranged the paper so that it overlapped Rose’s coat. His hand was underneath, simply resting, as if flung out in sleep.” When the train reaches Toronto, Rose notes that the minister, “refreshed,” opens his eyes. Is he refreshed from actually sleeping or from the sexual encounter? Rose assesses his offer to help her with her coat as “self-satisfied, dismissive.” Is this because of the unprotested liberties he took with Rose, or is it simply an aspect of his personality?
Munro has sharp eyes and ears for particulars of the individual’s traits and behavior. For example, she alerts the reader to Flo’s pronunciation of the words “bad women,” which are run together like “badminton.” Some details have only tenuous thematic and narrative significance and are included essentially to create authenticity of people and places. A good example of this Chekhovian technique is the account of Flo’s accosting the vendor of sour milk at the Hanratty station. Munro effectively uses details of nature to convey the protagonist’s feelings: The reference to the sensual wild swans in the title and the story is appropriate, and Rose’s imagined or real orgasm is poetically conveyed through a host of natural (and artificial) images that flash by the train window.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 86
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.
Ross, Catherine Sheldrick. Alice Munro: A Double Life. Toronto: ECW Press, 1992.
Simpson, Mona. “A Quiet Genius.” The Atlantic Monthly 288, no. 5 (December, 2001): 126.
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