'The language of Alice Munro's stories is ordinary but the effect that it creates is extraordinary.' Choose 3 stories from the collection and comment on the language Munro uses, showing how far you agree with this view of her writing.

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Tessa Appleby

“The language of Alice Munros stories is ordinary but the effect that it creates is extraordinary.”

Choose 3 stories from the collection and comment on the language Munro uses, showing how far you agree with this view of her writing.

Within Munro’s stories, the subjects, characters and language surrounding them seems ordinary, but the writing and effects that are drawn from the events are extraordinary. This essay will concentrate on three stories from the collection ‘Selected Stories’. The three stories are ‘Postcard’, ‘Miles City Montana’ and ‘Something I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You’. Within the collection ‘Selected Stories’ Alice Munro explores many themes. Examples of those central themes (common to all of the stories) include, the effects of small town life on the characters within the stories, life and mortality, social status and restrictions, gender differences and memories/family history.

‘Postcard’ displays Munro’s intention to observe the extraordinary that exists below the ordinary. She does this in the story by exploring gender roles through the consideration of social restrictions placed upon women and the subsequent lack of power many of the women within Munro’s stories feel. In ‘Postcard’ the central character Helen experiences this. Munro seeks to investigate and to make a social comment on small town life through the portrayal of gossip.

“Lookit the lights on up and down this street. There’s Grace Beecher watching us and I can see the Holmes got their Windows up. “You don’t want to give them anything more to talk about do you?”

The small town values of Canada are universal of all small towns.

 Another of the intentions in the story is to identify social class and the status inherent within the functioning of individuals and the society, which is based upon the values of small town life. ‘Postcard’ achieves this primarily by exploring relationships between males and females. (for example the relationship between the central character Helen and Clare.) The story also explores the relationships between parents and their children (e.g. between Helen and her mother) and perhaps more importantly between Clare and his mother. Throughout the story another of the central intentions is to show growth, change and development within the thoughts, feelings and attitudes of the central character Helen towards those immediately around her, to the broader town and to some extent the world within which she lives.

Helen is the focalizer within ‘Postcard’

“Yesterday afternoon, yesterday, I was going along the street to the Post Office.”

The symbolic postcard that Helen receives from Clare is central to the entire story. Not only does it provide the reader with a base time/point for the story (yesterday/when the postcard was received) but it also helps to characterise the relationship that Helen and Clare had and the feelings that Clare in particular had for Helen. By sending Helen a postcard Clare was affirming the fact that their relationship was only worth a casual response and not worthy of longer explanation i.e. in a letter.

“The date was ten days back. Well, sometimes postcards are slow, but I bet what happened was he carried this around in his pocket a few days before he remembered to mail it.”

 The content of the postcard only becomes symbolic when placed in the context of the rest of the story. As the story proceeds, it becomes evident that vital information was left out of the communication on the postcard (that information being the end of their relationship and his forthcoming marriage announced in the local newspaper.)

“A quiet ceremony in Coral Gables, Florida, uniting in marriage Clare Alexander  MacQuarrie …………… The couple were at present travelling by automobile to their future home in Jubilee.”

“Weather could not be better. Mid-seventies. How is the winter treating you in Jubilee? Not bad I hope. Be a good girl. Clare.”

The information conveyed on the postcard could have been directed towards anyone. This fits with Munro’s style of showing the relationships between males and females and portraying the idea that women do not have as many rights as men. The ordinary language of the postcard creates an extraordinary effect on the reader. The extraordinary effect is that the reader realises that Clare does not really care for Helen. By naming the story after the seeming insignificant token gesture of a postcard, Munro draws attention to all of the seemingly insignificant points in the story. It demands that you concentrate on every detail of the story.

Within ‘Postcard’ Munro demonstrates her unconventional grasp of the short story genre. Her style within ‘Postcard’ is unconventional because the four components that are needed within the conventional short story format are, exposition, complication, climax and resolution. These components within ‘Postcard’, are not explicitly evident e.g. the exposition is very gradual and the other elements (complication, climax and resolution) are present in the story but not really at targetable/clear points. Therefore Munro uses the ordinary language of exposition gradually and for that reason the effect that she creates is extraordinary.

Another characteristic of Munro’s style shown in ‘Postcard’ is the setting of the story. ‘Postcard’ is set in a small town and therefore she can use this style to explore one of the central intentions of the story, that being to show the social restrictions of  small town life.

“Helen, you want to wake everybody up in this whole town?” Said Buddy Shields, sticking his head in at the window.”

The narrative within the story ‘Postcard’ shifts from retrospective (detailing events that took place in the past) to first person (current events). These shifts in narrative style are punctuated by paragraph breaks within the text. An example of this is how the story starts with a retrospective account. Throughout the story the point that is often referred to is the afternoon that Helen received the Postcard, that time is known as the base point.

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“Yesterday afternoon, yesterday, I was going along the street to the post office.”

By using disorientating shifts in time, Munro through ordinary language creates extraordinary effects in the mind of the reader, who will contemplate the true meaning behind the story for a considerable time after they have finished reading it.

The ending of ‘Postcard’ adds an extra perspective to the story. Munro chooses to make her voice heard at the end of the story. By choosing to do this she adds additional detail, which through her unique portrayal of the characters unsettles the carefully constructed narrative. Although the ...

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