‘Shadow Dance’, by Alice Munro: Tales for Rebel Women

Alice Munro (Wingham, Canada, 1931) won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013 in recognition of “his mastery in the contemporary short story” according to the committee’s words. She was the first Canadian to receive the prestigious award and her acceptance speech was somewhat atypical, since it was not in person but through a visual recording made as an interview.

She assured on such an occasion that since she was a child she continuously invented stories and “As I got older the stories were more and more about myself”; He also commented that the first version of the story always seemed brilliant to him, the second time he read it he thought it was not bad, but when he read it again the next morning and it seemed silly to him, it was when he really had to work on the story and “If the story didn’t work it was my fault, not the story’s.”

I mention this interview because it is a valuable complement to the volume of stories that is now translated into Spanish, shadow danceas it was his first collection of short stories published back in 1968, awarded with the Governor’s General Award for Fiction. Probably most readers familiar with Munro will remember accounts from Munro’s early days included in Who do you think you are? (1978) and The moons of Jupiter (1982), or the most recent Too much happiness (2009) and my dear life (2012); Those who make up this very first work share a similar general vision of the behavior of women in society, but at the same time offer a different perspective.

In the aforementioned interview that served as acceptance of the Nobel, the author also commented that at first she conceived stories that had a happy ending, but that as she read and trained as a writer, tragic endings became more and more common.

The fifteen stories that make up the volume, hitherto unpublished in Spanish, evoke those of Sherwood Anderson in Winesburg, Ohio or John Steinbeck in the meadows of heaven in which the apparently pleasant life of its characters hides an infinitely more bitter reality. In addition, although each story has meaning and coherence in itself, since they are all located in the rural environment of Canadian midwestern farms —according to the model of the author’s father— confers, as in the aforementioned works, a certain plot unity.

[Alice Munro y la realidad que no sabemos ver]

The stories in this volume deal with traditional and recurring themes of feminism, such as sexual equality, what society expects of a woman, rebellion against patriarchy, in short, being respected and considered as people on equal terms with men. Other aspects that we find in this work, not so present in future titles, are the narrative structural convention, the importance of the argument, or the control of the characters. The narration in first person it is constant and with it he manages to give credibility to the stories. The plot model is very similar in each story: an apparently inconsequential event will mark the lives of the protagonists, always women.

In the first, “The Cowboy of the Walker Brothers”, a father invites his little daughter and younger brother to accompany him one afternoon in his commercial work visiting clients. The little girl, protagonist and narrator, excited “with the growing hope of adventure” (p. 16), she will discover a new world and meet Nora, a spinster, likely her father’s former flamewho has withered taking care of his elderly mother.

“The Brand New Houses” and “Postcards” present two stories that are thematically different but similar in terms of their message. Mary and Helen, the protagonists, are two young people who become aware of the rigidity of social norms. Mary, in “The Brand New Houses”admires his old neighbor because at his age he is able to face the conventions of a neighborhood in which “… they admired each other in that new attitude as owners just as people admire each other for going drunk” (p. 44 ).

The importance of social stratification in small communities is also present in “Sunday Afternoon.” “Postcards” revolves around the theme of the frustration —also appears in “The Hour of Death” and “The Peace of Utrecht”—. Helen learns of the marriage of her eternal suitor when, supposedly, she was on vacation: he was “a man who goes to his own” (p. 196). What really infuriates him is that men could allow themselves a type of behavior, ignoring womensomething that is denied to them.

Until now unpublished in Spanish, the fifteen stories in this volume by Alice Munro address recurring themes of feminism, such as sexual equality or the denunciation of patriarchy

“The office” and “Boys and girls” are the stories that have interested me the most. The first powerfully reminds a room of your own of Virginia Woolf insofar as the protagonist and narrator needs to have her own space, although in this case it is to write. She will rent a small office where she will work some nights and weekends and maintain a very complex relationship with her outdated landlord, who does not quite understand her need for privacy. She doesn’t take her seriously, just as she didn’t take her suitor Helen from “Postcards” seriously.

“Boys and girls” is a true gift of subtlety and insight. In this case, the young protagonist he prefers to help his father in the hard work of a fox farm instead of collaborating with his mother in the housework but no matter how hard he tries, his father doesn’t take his job seriously either.

“Dance of Shadows,” which lends its title to the volume, is the last in the collection and undoubtedly the most complex of all the tales. The protagonist is Miss Marsalles, an elderly piano teacher whose adolescent narrator was a student. Every June she organizes a “party”, a euphemistic name for what is really a tedious recitalwhere he meets his students, present and past, with their mothers.

A student will perform the piece “Dance of happy shadows”. She is undoubtedly a virtuoso, but all her virtuosity vanishes due to her mental disability. The anonymous narrator is just a girl, but she is already able to discern narrow-mindedness of those who live in a closed world constrained by rules as rigid as they are stupid. They are undoubtedly the shadows that wander through this delicious volume.

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‘Shadow Dance’, by Alice Munro: Tales for Rebel Women