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Few Critical Theories – Alice Munros Short Stories

What forms literariness? Scholars have on several aspects stated their opinion about what forms the literariness of literature. These statements are not always the same they seem to vary from time to time, person to person. Since authors always seem to be experimenting with their creations. They deviate from already existing conventional attributes, which form a text. Most of the time their experiments prove successful, opening a new chapter to what really forms a literary text.
The Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro writes stories that have the density – moral, emotional, sometimes historical concepts. To make her experiment successful the contribution comes from the reader. For, success to the writing comes from the manner in which the reader, interprets and admires the world of illusion she cerates. Alice Munro describes her stories as houses with places to wander around, in and out waiting to be discovered. She also says that every time a reader returns to it they discover something new. In her an interview she says
A story is not like a road to follow, I said, its more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering hoe the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story always contains more than you saw the last time (The Antigonish review 115; Miller, Judith Maclean).

A text gaining life depends on various factors that would have influenced the writer, as well as the reader. There are linguistic, historical, social and political events which contribute to the formation and interpretation of the work. It is only through criticism can we appreciate literature. I here make an attempt to explore Alice Munros creations, through a few critical theories, that have gained importance over the period of years.

1. Post Structuralism Deconstruction.
2. Reader oriented theories.
3. Gender based approach Feminism.

These three concepts with the difference in their approach to a literary text, I believe would bring out the literariness of the text in a better way. To create, understand and admire everything that goes into forming the text and giving it life the language, emotions, characters, religion, culture, history, landscape and even animals. We must remember that with all the above a text cannot be called a work of art. Let us have a peep into criticism to see how this Canadian writer employs the tools offered to her by it.

The stories of Alice Munro, is not restricted by Poes classical definition, by its limitation to words or length. Her stories contain more of descriptions, information, incidents and themes, characters dominated in action, which are compressed and packed in the story. Her stories are often open ended. The stories employ carefully chosen words as she manages to mix descriptions with well-constructed dialogues, which demand careful reading. Her characters are more lifelike, believable but at the same time, she paints a vivid picture, like a fairy tale in the mind of the reader.Let us consider three stories from Munros collection, Dance of Happy Shades. If a reader can admire a piece of work its only through criticism can we understand, exactly how it has been achieved.

Post structuralism:
Deconstruction offers ideas, based on order, unity of a language, art and subjectivity of a text. Jacques Derrida, says, it is, Impossible to draw a line between reality and representation. Alice Munro excels in her skill to mix images of reality and imagination. She artistically represents her imagination in her narratives to show their conditions and contexts. In this regard, she is unique in her appropriation of patchwork, between reality and representation in her narrative version.
Munros The Time Of Death, was first published in the Canadian Forum in 1956.The story is beautifully constructed and is set in the poor section of a small town. Its central incident, is identical to an event recorded on March 23, 1939, in the Wingham Advance-Times: Howick Baby Scalded to Death. . . . The 18-months-old baby pulled a pail of boiling water off the table, the water spilling over his entire body, scalding him badly. Munro has here beautifully juxtaposed social realism in the story. Gifted with the art of using the right words at the right place, she makes the readers respond; interpret a situation. Her words capture a picture for the reader. She encourages his active interpretation giving him license to produce his own meaning.
As Levi Stratus says, Munro has utilized an incident (a piece of information) from the newspaper, to fit into the bricologe that the creative part of her contributes to the story. It brings the sense of the society being observed from within. The story that centered on the girl seems to give more implications, to the reaction of the society to the girl. We realize that the absence of a center here is the absence of a subject and the absence of an author. Jacques Derrida says that, If one calls the necessity of borrowing ones concepts from the text of a heritage, it must be said that every discourse is a bricoleur (Lodge, 2000, 96). We start looking for deeper meanings, which the text may convey. Munros stories demand a lot of attention from the reader. The context has a meaning, deeper than what a reader assumes it to be, when its read for the first time. In this process we step outside the text and compare incidents, as we realize the presence of social realism in the story.
Through her language Munro, creates a character (Patricia) who draws our attention trying to portray a picture too perfect about herself. A child trying to fit into the adult world. She took the scissors and cut very neatly, not leaving any white edges aroundShe did things the way a grown up does; she did not pretend things. Munro sends out a sign to what was to occur later. Disasters, for allowing a child become an adult too soon. Munro uses signs, as to be in tune with Derridas view where he says, a world of signs without fault, without truth and without origin, which is offered at our active interpretation. (Lodge, 2000, 88)
I hate him! She screamed, standing stock still in the yard with her face looking so wizened and white. The shrill shaking cries brought Leona running out, and the neighbors; they pulled her into the house still screaming a prize kid of Leonas, the neighbors said to each other as they went homelaughed gloomily and said, yeah, that future movie star. Out in the yard yelling, youd think shed gone off her head. (Munro:99)
The image created through words, stirs emotions of the reader who is filled with a sense of pity and feel the despair of the central character. Munro chooses to add depth and width, to flash back and forward, to cross-refer to other stories. At the same time the reader is also made aware of the societys attitude towards the girl. The central context of the story seems to shift from the girl and then towards the society. The readers emotion shifts from pity to realization of the existing drawbacks of the society. The reader forgets the context of the story and the writer. His attention is drawn towards something that does not exist anywhere in the story; he realizes the reforms the society needs.
As critics say, the absence of a center means the absence of a subject and the absence of an author, making the reader responsible for what he creates with his interpretation. As what is absent in the text is supplemented by signs, each sign supplements another and allows the pieces to come together for the reader. Munro aims at relate to the consciousness of man and his attitude in the society.
Adults trying to make children grow up fast giving them responsibility. At this juncture the character that seems to be the central signified loses its importance as the center seems to be else where. In order to capture the central signified we end up going around and round, from one signifier to the next. Through constant weaving and unweaving we try to arrive at the center of the context. But, this is supplemented by signs left to the reader to interpret. We can never at any point of time conclude to what the text has to convey. The text seems to offer a whole lot of interpretations every time the reader reads it. This is due to the physical, mental, emotional, social, imaginative components present in the text.
Reader Response:
Munro’s characters come close to a true version of the experience they could render, to a reader. Her stories are driven not by a desire to create an effect, to dominate, or to deceive. Her writing makes a reader recuperate experience, through language she uses transformed by the mediations of memory, succeeding experience. But, its up to the reader to interpret and make out a meaning to the context of the story.
Some of Munros stories resemble an event which we may have experienced, or come across at times. We at times identify the narration in the story with part of our lives. The stories evoke our admiration, giving voice to the voices of their regions, filtering the natural rhythms of speech. They are faithful to the contours of local legend, tall tales, anecdotes, family reminiscences; their material is nearly always realistic. The reader often tends to bring in unwritten messages getting involved and creating a virtual world. As brought out by Virginia Woolfs observation, of Jane Austen: Jane is thus a mistress of deeper emotion that appears upon the surface. She stimulates us to supply what is not there. What she offersexpand in the readers mind (Lodge, 2000, 190)the written text imposes certain limitations to the unwritten implications. These implications help the readers creative imagination to give life to the written text, which is set in the background of the given situation. This has its own significance as the readers imagination does not limit itself to the boundaries provided by the writer.
One of her stories, The shining houses, is a beautiful story that brings out the conflict between the old and the new. The story portrays changes that occur in any locality due to development in technology and human reactions to it. The central character of this story is Mary who in a party is caught in a heavy argument and forced to take an opinion. Its something that would happen in anybodys life at particular point of time.
Mrs. Fullerton is the oldest living resident in that particular community. One the day Mr. Fullerton, had departed and she believed that one day he would return home. She wanted to be there when he returned. She had refused to accept the suggestions given by her sons to sell the place and go live in rooms. Age did not stop her from being independent. One could not think her as a problem but for one thing the house she lived in.

felt as if she were passing through barricades. The house and its surroundings were so self-sufficient, with their complicated and seemingly unalterable layout of vegetables and flowerbeds, apple and cherry trees, wired chicken-run, berry patch and wooden walks, woodpile and a great many roughly built dark little sheds, for hens or rabbits or a goat. Here was no open or straightforward planplace had become fixed, impregnable, all its accumulations necessary, until it seemed that even the wash tubs, mops, couch springs and stacks of old police magazines on the back porach were there to stay. (Munro,2005, 23)

Her house was not simply a part of the new world. This happened to be the reason for the argument that started in the party. The new generation thought it was, shack, eyesore, filthy, property, value (Munro,2005,27). Mary, found her self in a situation where she had taken up the side of Mrs. Fullerton, though she seemed to agree with the idea of others at the party. She signs the petition with reluctance. Knowing reality was much different from imagination. People did not admire you when you stand up for somethingvoicing out injustice. In reality people would only humiliated you. So, Mary with no other alternative takes sides with the new generation hoping that things would be better for Mrs. Fullerton.
Munro uses the linguistic analogy, between literary device and human experience. She contrasts the lifeless houses the old and new buildings. This contrast between the isolated old woman, her house and the new generation and new houses, express the importance of concepts. Which, when experienced in continuity speaks volumes about home, people. Wolfgang Iser , the reader, in establishing these interrelations between past, present and future , actually causes the text to reveal its potential multiplicity of connections. These connections are the product of the readers mind working on the raw material of the text, though they are not the text itself for this consists of sentences, statements, information, ect( Lodge, 2000,192) Thus the readers are able to perceive the realities of life at a level, where the reader can nod in agreement, as he/she slowly creates his/her creation.
. Munro points out to the many forces at work. These shape our lives and relationships. Reading the stories the reader starts looking for the existence of the context that exists beyond the text. Through the use of powerful dialogue, revealing description, insightful flashback, Munro constructs a world of characters which the reader starts to recognize as his reading continues. He starts using the text and begins substituting events next to another and sees that they all influence one another. He provides the missing link to parts of the story.
The reader starts painting a picture, through his participation in the creative process of interpretation. This picture often depends on the experience of the reader as he constantly seems to identify his life experience to the one given in the story. Through her choice of words in her stories she helps the reader visualize images. The reader assorts bits and pieces, of the written text creating a picture of human existence. As Iser puts it: reading can be characterized as a sort of kaleidoscope of perspectives, preintentions, recollections. The reader through the interweaving of his experience, the context, the linguistic expressions and social back drop of the story brings his virtual world into existence.
The reader must be open to accept, conditions which he may not have experienced. He must avoid being frustrated if the story does not fit into his predication of events. We expect, Mary in The Shinning Houses, to stand up for the cause of Mrs. Fullerton. But Mary, signs the paper. A wise and practical decision made by her, knowing well that she wouldnt be praised but would be ridiculed. But the writer chooses to portray things as they are in reality and makes no attempt to help the reader interpret it as he would want it. When the reader is able to balance and allow levels of interpretation shift to fit into perspectives, the story becomes alive. We thus start absorbing unfamiliar experiences into our personal world.
Wolfgang Iser observes that there are three important aspects which form the basis for the relationship between the reader and the text: the process of anticipation and retrospection, the consequent unfolding of the text as a living event, and the resultant impressions of lifelikeness. The reader is expected to set aside his preconceptions and open up to the text. By doing so, we will be able to gain the experience the text has to offer. By interpretation and filling in the gaps, to create the unformulated part to the text.
Gender theories:
The bias of gender is something that exists from the very beginning. The dual hierarchy is seen to exist in myths, legends, law and books. Man is shown to have a privilege over woman, from the beginning. Feminist literature is an attempt to formulate and find solutions to existing problems. The initial effort of feministic movement was to revise the history created by men in literature where women are stereotyped and portrayed according to mans understanding or expectations of women. Virginia Woolf in her Room Of Ones Own, states that it is unpleasant to be locked outit is worse, perhaps, to be locked in, when she was prohibited from entering the University library, which was a symbol of male logos( Lodge, 2000,309).
Munro is no expectation to her approach towards feminism in her stories. In her Boys and Girls The story highlights the forces that play an important role of factors that shape the children, into what they become later. In the story Munro, focuses into on the life of a young girl. The readers attention is drawn towards the way in which a quality of a person is attributed based on gender. The narrator, the young girl and her brother were brought up on their farm. Where she helps her father and takes great interest in doing the job. She enjoys the open and working with her father helping, while he cuts grass and carries water for the foxes in summer. The narrator thinks she has been accepted into the mans world but even as a child people start to categorize her as, Only a girl.
my father said, Like to have you to meet my new hired man. I turned away and raked furiously, red to the face with pleasure. Could of fooled me, said the salesman. I thought it was only a girl. (Munro, 2005,116)
The narrator realizes the implications a bit late. Its only when she helps a mare escape, she sums up the hopelessness of the situation. She fully expects to be sent from the table for her unseemly, “feminine” behavior. But to her surprise her father overlooks her mistake. She was only a girl so her actions could not be considered. If being a girl means refusing to sanction violence and the abuse of power, then she must indeed be a girl.
Munro explores the depth of human feelings and experiences through her characters. Most of her women characters are portrayed as tough, and more complex compared to her male characters. Often compared to Anton Chekhov, and hailed by critics as his heir, due to her ability to capture characters and portray them realistically.
A womans writing is always feminine; it cannot help being feminine; at its best its most feminine; the only difficulty lies in defining what we mean by feminine. Virginia Woolf ( Lodge, 2000,311).
Munro has represented the bias in gender that exists to date, through her writing. “Boys and Girls,” highlights the almost invisible societal forces which shape children. Munr

About the Author:
Reference:
1.Bonheim, Helmut : The Narrative Modes(Techniques of the short story) : USA: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1986.
2.Bates, H.E. : The Modern short story : London : Robert hale, 1988.
3.Head, Dominic : The Modernist short story : UK: Cambridge university press, 1992.
4.Miller, Judith Maclean : The Antigonish review 115. Bates, H.E. , The Modern short story : London : Robert hale, 1988.
5.Bonheim, Helmut , The Narrative Modes(Techniques of the short story) : USA: Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1986.
6.Brigham Narins and Deborah A. Stanley, Editors, “Munro, Alice (Vol. 95) – Introduction.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. ; Gale Cengage, 1997.
7.Callaghan Dympana, Shakespeare Without Women- Representing Gender And Race On The Renaissanc

Source: http://www.articlesnatch.com/Article/Few-Critical-Theories—Alice-Munro—s–Short-Stories/785961


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