Novel Study Check-In

1. “In direct and vivid ways, these three stories reveal Alice Munro rediscovering – as a mature woman and writer- the cultural legacies left her by her family in her home place. Munro’s mother’s presences is only the most pressing and urgent one – more distant ancestors, like the cousins in “The Ottawa Valley” or her aunt and grandmother in “Winter Wind,” reveal Munro’s awareness of the web of human interconnection defined by her home place. She began exploring that web in a new way in her stories when she returned and confronted them, still there, in Ontario.” (pg. 66)
a. Personal Interest
i. I find this quote interesting because it shows Munro’s depth as a writer who is able to create vivid scenes and characters. From the passages I read from her work, this ability to create sharp, vivid scenes really adds to her short stories and novels, and this is what she is most known for. As a writer, Munro probes human emotion and connection while creating scenes of vivid detail, and her small town, mundane stories remind me of Steward McClain’s short stories, with both their takes on average Canadian lives.
b. Canadian Identity:
i. This passage shows Alice Munro’s interconnectedness with her childhood home and her roots, and her ability to draw on her web of Canadian ancestry to craft meaningful pieces of Canadian Literature. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, when Alice Munro publishes these stories, featured in Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, her work is at the forefront of defining Canadian Identity and culture. Munro’s reliance on her experiences growing up in rural Ottawa, and weaving these deeply Canadian stories from her memories, struck a cord when many authors fretted about the invasion of large American publishing corporations into Canadian writing and publishing. Her ability to draw on her experiences and roots from her childhood in the Huron Valley deeply impacts her writing, exemplifying Canada’s need for Canadian work, particularly Canadian literature.

2. . “Recalling her university years, Munro says that she loved her time there, ‘being in that atmosphere, having all those books, not having to do any housework. Those are the only tow years of my life without housework.'” (pg. 261)
a. Personal Interest:
i. This quote is interestingbecause  Munro is reveling in the atmosphere of university and its sharp contrast with her prior experiences. She was expected, as the oldest child and daughter with a sick mother, to take on much of the physical labor and chores in the household. She was also expected to fulfill this role when she married her (now ex) husband. There were certain societal pressures on her, pulling her away from her talents as a writer and into the realm of a housewife. These societal pressures interest me because it is so easy to see the limits and confines of the mold society created, and it reminds me of A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, where Ged is pressured by his peers to conform to the talents of his peers and not reach his true potential and autonomy.

b. Canadian Identity:
i. This quote shows the expectation and societal pressure for women in Canada to be homemakers and housewives. Munro was no exception to this rule, and actually worked as a maid for one summer while she was still in high school, and completing a lot of work at home for her family. When she could no longer afford to go to university, she was presented with two choices: to marry a man at the university, or to return to the Huron Valley and marry a farmer. This lack of options besides marriage shows that Munro was expected to conform to society’s norms at the time, and she did, marrying a man from her university and moving to Vancouver. From there she lived a “double life”- both that of a mother and homemaker and that of an artist, and this tension between the two causes conflicts in her life and marriage.

3. “Combining marriage and family with ‘the black life of an artist’ as she did from 1952 through the 1970s, this coincidence of births was a fitting one for Alice Munro” (pg. 321)
a. Personal Interest:
i. I find this quote interesting because of the coincidence between this Munro publishing this story and her child being born. Also, this intersection of her two lives allowed her to draw inspiration from one for the other: She writes about her daughter almost drowning and her failing marriage. She manages to combine her lives at crucial intervals, and this intersection of her two lives was no different, blending and merging her two identities.
b. Canadian Identity:
i. This quote shows the intersection of her Alice Munro’s two lives. This quote is talking about the release of her first story in a magazine, which coincided with the birth of her first daughter. This combining of her lives was often an unequal one, with her children and home often taking first priority, and her work taking second, with the exception of the few months where she rented an office space and published only one story- “The Office”. She was often too exhausted to work on her short stories, or too busy, so her passion and work often came second to her family during this time period.

4. . “[Gerald Taaffe] went through the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts […] and found just one piece he wanted to publish – a story called “Dance of the Happy Shades”. It was, unfortunately, unsigned.” (pg. 403)
a. Personal Interest:
i. I found the extent of Munro’s modest and self-effacing actions incredible. She often sent work to publishers unsigned, and in occasions like this when her work was noticed, the author was unknown. Her modesty also translated into everyday conversations and letters to , like one to her editor where she said “I’m sorry to bother you”. This shows me that Munro was never in writing for the fame or fortune, rather she chose to write because she needed too, because it was a part of her psyche and deeply imbedded in her being. For Munro, “The Peace of Utrecht” was almost painful to write, but she wrote it anyway, to process her mother’s illness and death. I find her motivations and drive vary interesting, and in a way her determination reminds me of Hamilton.
b. Canadian Identity:
i. This shows Munro’s self-effacing, modest quality, which was expected for women at that time period. Her decision to not sign the manuscript reflects her distaste for attention and celebrity. These actions also show the values and norms when she was a child, where in the Huron Valley, modesty and hard work were valued and emphasized in everyday life. This passage also shows the quality of Munro’s work, and the willingness of the magazine editor to include it instead of opting for a more well-known author. This concept of modesty is still reflected in Canadians today, and it is a part of our national identity.
5. . “Munro’s ‘normal life’ was changing. […] She says when asked her occupation she replied ‘writer ‘ instead of ‘housewife’. It was an exhilarating idea to her.” (pg. 483)
a. Personal Interest:
i. I find this shift in Munro’s perspective interesting, seeing her grow from a meek housewife who occasionally wrote short stories to an autonomous woman who is capable of being independent and self-sufficient. During this time she divorces her first husband, and the amount of opportunities she had was incredible to her. She did this all when the views and status of women in society were rapidly changing, allowing her to reach her full potential. In a sense, this change and shift from women as mothers and housewives to autonomous people reflects a revolution and social change, which relates to STEP, which we learned about in humanities.

b. Canadian Identity: What insights or pieces of wisdom might these passages reveal about Canadian values at the time of the text’s publication? What does each passage reveal about what it means to be a Canadian now?
i. This quote shows the shift in Canadian identity and social norms during the 1970’s. Munro’s shift in her view of herself demonstrates the overall shift as women from housewives and mothers to people, who are able to work and contribute to the economy. Before this, working past your twenties was stigmatized and women were criticized because of their supposed inability to find a husband. Munro’s views of herself demonstrate this shift and allow her to reach her full potential as a writer.

Theme:

Society’s values often dictate how we view ourselves, and a shift in these values allows us to view ourselves in a different manner, allowing us to learn and grow into a new part of ourselves.

I can take away this message from Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives because it was so adeptly demonstrated by Munro herself. Her view of herself and her work shifts when society’s perception of a woman in the workforce shifts, and this allows her to fulfill her true potential as a writer.


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