Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414

Munro believes that the individual’s true emotional, psychological, moral, and cerebral motivations are complex and elusive. Consequently, human experience cannot really be portrayed in any objective, categorical way. The brief but poignant incident from Rose’s life illustrates clearly Munro’s artistic credo. She inclusively suggests various ways of interpreting Rose’s experience, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.

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In her deliberate and skillful use of ambiguity in depicting Rose’s response to the liberties taken by the United Church minister, Munro wants the reader not only to know but also to experience how difficult it is at times for the individual to separate fantasy from reality. Narrated strictly from Rose’s point of view, the story allows the reader into her consciousness, making it possible to experience vicariously the overwhelming force of fantasy and imagination.

Responding to the story as a portrayal of an actual seduction leads the reader into a consideration of society’s immorality and hypocrisy and, more important, of Rose’s motivations in reacting the way she does. Is she an innocent experiencing awakening sensuality? The narrator suggests that her acquiescence to the minister’s probing hand is not sensuality or passivity but an overpowering appetite for experience: “Curiosity. More constant, more imperious, than any lust. A lust in itself, that will make you draw back and wait, wait too long, risk almost anything, just to see what will happen.” Munro, in an interview, reiterated explicitly this interpretation of Rose’s inaction. She said that the story describes how the individual reacts to “something unthinkable” and that Rose exhibits not “passivity but curiosity.”

In the first published version of this story, Munro did not include the concluding episode concerning Mavis’s impersonation of Frances Farmer. In appending this ending to the later version published in Who Do You Think You Are?, Munro added another contiguous dimension to Rose’s experience. Rose, who at the beginning of the story is portrayed as acquiescent to the milk vendor whom Flo challenges, now shares Flo’s admiration for Mavis’s audacity in pretending to be Frances Farmer, and, by extension, she perhaps reluctantly admires the minister’s boldness as well. Given Munro’s deliberately ambiguous portrayal, Rose quite likely also admires her own nerve in indulging in sexual fantasizing on a crowded train. Mavis’s “preposterous adventure” in her “own, but newly named, skin” parallels Rose’s own just-concluded adventure experienced in actuality or perhaps in her own young, vibrant imagination.

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