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Alice Munro's "The Found Boat"; A Typical Story - With A Free Essay Review
Melissa Petrosky (1992)
22 November 2011
Alice Munro: A Typical Story: Abstract
Alice Munro emphasizes typical life situations in all of her works of fiction. In these short stories, she allows the reader to connect with the characters like those discovered in “The Found Boat,” “Boys and Girls,” and “The Progress of Love” by giving her characters realistic emotions, attributes, and situations. Munro describes the settings throughout her stories, allowing the reader to create a clear and accurate picture of the characters’ whereabouts. “The Found Boat,” “Boys and Girls,” and “The Moons of Jupiter”, as well as the entire collection of Alice Munro’s works of fiction, maintain a realistic and very humanlike quality. This gives the reader an opportunity to truly connect with the characters found in all of Alice Munro’s short stories. Munro’s impeccable use of metaphors, symbols, and imagery used in all of her stories help to bring the reader closer. Though Alice Munro’s works have improved over time, “The Found Boat” is a perfect portrayal of the complex condition of being human and maintains consistency with the realistic theme and descriptive setting of all of Alice Munro’s works.
Alice Munro: A Typical Story
In Alice Munro’s short story, “The Found Boat,” the reader is faced with a group of characters who are children, girls and boys, having a distinct yet typical life experience as they enter adolescence. The two girls in the story are friends, as well as the three boys in the story; However, the girls are not friends with the boys, and the boys only pay them negative attention, as if the girls are a nuisance or inconvenience to them. Alice Munro often uses real life situations the reader can relate to, and overtime as she develops as a writer proves this even more efficiently in her future works published after one of her first typical stories: “The Found Boat.” Though Alice Munro’s works have improved over time, “The Found Boat” is a perfect portrayal of the complex condition of being human and maintains consistency with the realistic theme and descriptive setting of all of Alice Munro’s works.
Munro’s characters are always the same in the sense that they are average people with average lives. Her plots are always the same in the sense that they are nothing supernatural or out of the ordinary. Yet Alice Munro still manages to make the story interesting for the same reason – it is something with which the reader can connect:
Her style and narrative technique combine in the creation of complex and often disturbing stories of everyday people—characters who on the surface are as ordinary and real as our neighbours, yet whose lives below the veneer of everyday life have a dimension of strangeness and mystery that throws everyday reality into question and reshapes it into another less definable yet more truthful reality. (Carol Mazur).
In her solid collection of fictitious short stories that are plainly identifiable with realism, “The Moons of Jupiter,” “I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You,” “Boys and Girls,” “The Love of a Good Woman,” and other works, Alice Munro tells her readers about characters with whom they are familiar with because they are so identifiable to the average person. As Munro continued writing her works became even more recognized then “The Found Boat”, and she eventually went on to receive multiple awards. “Munro writes about the human condition and relationships seen through the lens of daily life” (Wikipedia). In her short stories she enlightens the reader about human relationships, with emphasis on male – female relationships, regardless of romantic content and complexity, relating it back to similar relationships most readers have had in life or are experiencing.
Alice Munro has been defined as one of the world’s finest short story writers (Carol Mazur). She captures the reader by putting elements all human beings have into her own characters. Munro starts with characters who know who they are, only coming to question that [who they are] as the story develops (“Alice Munro”). The author’s characters are children in the short story “The Found Boat”, as girls and boys who do not get along, but find common ground when their town has flooded. The boys are initially mean and dismissive of the girls, but their behaviors change as they become friends. This occurs after their town has already experienced the flood, and these four children find a boat, repair it, and find themselves befriending each other, and finding the positive side in their situation. The girls finally receive the respect and attention they want from the boy, and they are acknowledged for something other than a nuisance after finding the boat. Alice Munro’s other works, “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” and “Runaway” are also about females who find the light in a situation, incorporating other characters into the story who are not initially likeable, but become likeable as the story evolves, such as the young boys in “The Found Boat”. “Runaway”, unlike Munro’s other stories is a novel, and was “one of the best books of 2004” according to the New York Times (Edgar V. Roberts, Robert Zweig). Sometimes her characters go off in directions that are stupid, but subtle (“Alice Munro”). All of the author’s stories are associated with characters that are found in similar situations. Some of the situations vary slightly in the fact that they are more “adult” or have a different setting or plot, but Munro always tries to provide the reader with a character they can relate to. “Munro’s fiction vividly describes ordinary people and settings with which readers identify” (Carol Mazur).
Alice Munro always gives the reader an opportunity to use their minds to truly connect with the setting. Her impeccable use of descriptive detail throughout her stories give the reader a clear image of the characters’ surroundings. This is a key feature in all of Alice Munro’s writing because the setting is what often helps set the tone in all of her works. This gives the reader more than just a brief description. In the short story, “The Found Boat,” Alice Munro tells the reader, “There were always things floating around in the Flood – branches, fence-rails, logs, road signs, old lumber; sometimes boilers, washtubs, ports and pans, or even a car seat or stuffed chair, as if somewhere the Flood had got into a dump” (Munro, 300). By telling the reader all of the random objects found in the flood she helps put the image of a more messy then devastating natural disaster into the reader’s mind, also allowing readers to see that the flood was probably more of an inconvenience to the adults or parents of the children than it was a disastrous natural occurrence. In a different short story of Munro’s “Boys and Girls,” she emphasizes the scenery again by saying, “For several weeks before Christmas my father worked after supper in the cellar of our house. The cellar was whitewashed, and lit by a hundred-watt bulb over the work table” (Alice Munro, “Boys and Girls). This tells the reader that because it was Christmas it was probably cold out, which intrigues the reader’s sense of touch and sight when told the color of the walls and light provided. In all of Alice Munro’s short stories, she is consistent with constantly describing the setting, keeping the reader up to speed on the characters’ whereabouts.
No matter the subject or story, Alice Munro makes the reader feel like she is a friend retelling a story:
The author puts her hand on your shoulder and invites you into her fictional world. She is friendly, and there is a neighborly quality to her narrative prose. She starts in a small place and universalizes characters and lives that we might otherwise overlook. It’s as if you are sitting at a table, and she’s going to tell you a story of what happened awhile back, down the street. (Russell Banks).
Irrelevant as to what work of fiction she writes, Alice Munro strives to keep the reader close. In the short story, “The Found Boat,” she does so by retelling a tale of childhood; one that is similar to experiences readers have had, differing in only the small details of the characters disposition. “Munro’s fiction expands outward, and it shows us that while the short story can be as compressed as a diamond, it can also be as expansive as a novel” (Russell Banks). In another short story of childhood, “Boys and Girls,” she tells a tale of childhood as a young girl resists her superiors, so she will not grow up to be a “typical woman.” A “typical woman” is defined in this story as inferior to a man. The main character telling the story does not want to lose her identity to men. As many readers can relate to resisting what is expected of them as children or teenagers, otherwise known as rebellion, through this realistic work of fiction Alice Munro tells another story of coming-of-age and the struggles of adolescence. “She divides well-crafted but slight stories that demand understanding” (Thomas E. Tausky).
In Alice Munro’s works, there is often an unforeseen twist. In “The Found Boat,” the young boys and girls float away on the boat they repaired to a deserted station with broken glass everywhere. When left alone with no adults present to supervise them, the boys dare the girls to take off their clothes, and the girls dare them right back. They all make themselves nude, and instead of feeling the expected guilt accompanied with removing their clothes, they feel free. “Not caring now about being caught but in fact leaping and yelling to call attention to themselves, if there was anybody to hear or see” ( Munro, 304). Often in life people are “supposed” to feel something when facing a situation, but this does not mean they will. In Munro’s short story, “The Lives of Girls and Women”, the main character, Del, tries to write about her hometown, but cannot due to the entrapping nature of adulthood (“Alice Munro”). In her stories, characters do not always feel what is expected of them by the pressures of society, which is also relevant in real-life situations of the readers who may not always be feeling the “appropriate” emotion. “With many stories the reader does not realize the “twist” until they have already read it” (Walter Rintoul Martin).
Alice Munro is only known for fictitious literary works, but many characterize her works as being “short” novels. Although, “The Found Boat” is not among her most recognized works, it still produces a great tale from the beginning of her career. “Many critics have asserted that Munro’s stories often have the emotional and literary depth of novels” (Wikipedia). “The Found Boat”, as well as the entire collection of Munro’s literary works have these characteristics associated with being a novel. Munro brings the reader so much detail in her short stories, yet they are only “short” stories.
Alice Munro has written over a dozen short stories. The more popular stories consisting of: “Dance of the Happy Shades”, “The Moons of Jupiter”, “Runaway”, and “The Progress of Love”; However, “The Found Boat” shares the same literary elements, such as in depth imagery and symbolism, making it just as notable as the author’s other works. It includes typical characters who are faced with real-life situations. It gives the reader insight on the complex relationships that exist among people, specifically males and females. “Use of narrative devices such as symbols, metaphors, and imagery, which Munro states is not a conscious or deliberate act on her part but something which naturally occurs in the writing process, have been highlighted in a number of critical works” (Carol Mazur). Alice Munro portrays situations the reader can relate to with her great descriptions, dialogue, and theme in every one of her short stories, and her future works published after “The Found Boat” prove this with even more adequacy.
Early in your essay, you claim that a Munro story is "something with which the reader can connect." Then, without further introduction, you quote a long passage from Carol Mazur's study of Munro. What you don't do is explain the significance of the quotation. Instead, you leave it up to your reader to determine how this quotation might justify your claim about Murnro's stories being the kind with which we can connect. You also don't define what you mean by "connect" here. So a lot of interpretive work is being left up to the reader here. Moreover, when I read the Mazur quotation, I find Mazur arguing that the everyday quality of the lives of Munro's characters is misleading; it's a veneer beneath which lies "strangeness and mystery." This is not close to being a claim that _obviously_ supports the contention that it is ostensibly intended to support. Perhaps you want to argue that Mazur’s point about there being a "more truthful reality" beneath everyday life in Munro's fiction is the relevant point. Perhaps you want to argue, in other words, that readers connect with this "more truthful reality." That argument would be clearer if - well, if you actually made it, and then defended it, and then explained the nature of the more truthful reality, and then perhaps cited an example from Munro's fiction that showed how such a truthful reality lying beneath everyday reality gets revealed. If you do that, your essay will be stronger. Of course, if you do it every time you quote a critic, then your essay will be a lot stronger still, but you especially need to do it when you are tackling the main argument of your essay. But what is the main argument of your essay?
Well, aside from the claim about readers being able to connect with the stories, you make claims about plot twists and claims about the novelistic character of the stories. You also make a claim about the literary merits of the story to which attend most closely, "The Found Boat," and claims about the critical reception of Munro's work. And you makes claims about the author's figurative language. All of that is really too much to deal with in a short essay. You don't have the time or space to deal with any of your claims thoroughly, so they end up being, for the most part, partially supported assertions. Unless you are trying only to write a sketch of what will be a longer treatment of Munro, I think you need to decide on a single topic. There are two reasonable choices in this respect, as far as I can tell, in the present essay: the claim that readers can connect with Munro's fiction, and the claim that the short stories have the expansive quality associated with novels. While I find talk of readers connecting with works of fiction a bit nebulous (hence the implicit suggestion above that you should define what you mean by “connect”), you've done much of the work necessary to write an essay on the topic. The challenge is to make sure that all of the additional stuff you write about is somehow put into the service of making that argument, and stuff that cannot be accommodated should be ruthlessly excised - for otherwise you end up with a incoherent list of things to say, which would amount, at best, to something like an encyclopedia entry, and not an essay. For instance, the last three paragraphs of your essay (the last sentence of the essay notwithstanding) do not in any obvious way help you clarify the ways in which readers can identify with the characters and connect with the stories.
Language note: Too many adjectives. You don't really need to indicate your appreciation of the quality of Murnro's writing with approbative modifiers; since these are, in effect, unsupported assertions about that writing, they really have no place in a critical essay. If you want to argue that her stories are "solid" or her metaphors "impeccable" (all metaphors are peccable!), that's fine, but since you're in the business of proving things rather than merely asserting them, I suggest dumping the qualifiers that are not explicitly justified.