Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

Alice Munro, Runaway (2004)

Alice Munro is a Canadian short story writer whose collection Runaway (2004) explores and reflects upon the nature of women, especially in regards to their sexuality.  Through her female characters, Munro presents women as having complex interior lives.  Her stories are usually set in small towns and farms in the Canadian countryside and feature the impact of death and chance on the lives of individuals.  This somewhat grim preoccupation has invited others to label her stories as ‘Canadian gothic’.  However, the gothic, or horror, elements in her stories are not related to the supernatural but to the horror that can occur in everyday life, such as deaths that come as a surprise, and unexpected and unpredictable twists of fate.  In Munro’s stories a chance matter involving life or death is shown to dramatically change the direction of a character’s life, for better or for worse. 

Alice Munro’s stories also subtly display a feminist sensibility derived from the second wave of feminism that was prominent during the 1960s and 1970s that was concerned with advancing women’s rights, especially regarding opportunities in education and employment.  Parallel to this, she is also broadly interested in the social and cultural changes brought by the rise of the New Left (which included feminism) and the hippy counter-culture that promoted progressive values and sought to displace mainstream Christian conservative values.  For example, these trends increased educational and career choices for women.  These trends also led to a greater acceptance of people who have a child out of wedlock or who live together as partners rather than as a married couple.   These trends also promoted atheism, recreational drug use, and sexual experimentation. While Munro seems to be in favour of the changes brought by feminism, she is ambivalent about the cultural impact of the hippies, critically noting, for example, their disdain for senior citizens. 

Despite these social and cultural interests, her work is far from being overtly ideological or doctrinaire in its treatment of human nature.  Instead, while showing an appreciation of feminist principles and the changes to society brought by the second wave of feminism, her stories reflect a close and sensitive study of human nature in intricate detail, with her stories seeming to be derived from life experiences or from a close and discerning observation of others.  As a writer, Munro seems to be observant and always open to discovering and collecting stories that she can render realistically to make them as convincing as possible. This capacity for close observation seems to be combined with an understanding of the human psyche.  Consequently, her stories can be seen to exhibit considerable psychological insight. 

Munro’s writing style features third-person observations of life that render intricate psychological details. However, the richness of her psychological insight is alluded to, or implied, or inferred, rather than stated explicitly.  This requires a high degree of psychological awareness from her readers to fully appreciate the intellectual richness woven into her storytelling.  Her stories therefore require a careful concentration and an attention to detail that mirrors the attention to detail with which she imbued her stories. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

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The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Runaway meaning,  Runaway themes, Runaway analysis, Runaway notes