Lives of Girls and Women Teenagers worldwide worry about the standards of society. “Lives of Girls and Women”, by Alice Munro, portrays a young girl’s Journey into womanhood as she struggles to choose between the societal definition of a woman and that of her own, developed through experiences and personality. Society expects a woman to maintain physical beauty, marry during youth, follow God, bear children and take care of her family.
Using characterization, symbolism, setting and conflict, Munro develops the theme of making choices while coming of age to illustrate the concept of omen living according to societal traditions and expectations in order to be accepted. By developing this theme, Munro portrays how lives of girls and women are more influenced by societal ideas than their own ideas. Munro uses the characters of Ada, Auntie Grace, Del and Naomi and the settings of the countryside and Jubilee to depict internal and external conflicts in order to amplify the theme.
The theme is amplified through the characters of Ada and Auntie Grace in various parts of the story. Ada is knowledge-hungry and happy to be “going on the road” (Munro 61) to sell encyclopaedias. She values knowledge more than material possessions or domestic chores. On the contrary, Auntie Grace is the perfect example of a traditional woman. She wears “dark cotton dresses with fresh, perfectly starched and ironed white lawn collars, china flower brooches” (Munro 61). She keeps herself well-groomed and takes time to decorate her house as well.
As a result, Auntie Grace disdains Ada and often criticizes her saying, “Not much time for ironing when she has go out on the road” (Munro 61). By saying so, Auntie Grace comments on Del’s torn sleeve and insults Ada. Moreover, “ladies contain themselves and clap from some kind of a distance” (Munro 69) when Ada performs in her party with intense excitement. Ada does not hear from those ladies again and they do not invite her to their parties. Evidently, Ada is socially unaccepted because her values differ from those of other women. Ultimately, Ada “[gives] up on social life” (Munro 69).
She stops writing letters to the editor regarding social changes and imprisons her ideas. Del sees her mother’s condition and is forced to take a different path many times in fear of societal isolation. Hence, Ada and Auntie Grace make different choices in order to be accepted which shows the influence of society on women. Similarly, Munro uses the characters of Del and Naomi to illustrate the transformations girls undergo in order to be a woman. Del and Naomi start out as best friends, but gradually drift away due to their contrasting personalities and opinions.
After a certain illness, Naomi comes out as a traditional girl. “She [sits] under a tree with her skirt spread out around her” (Munro 162) while Del plays volleyball and “her daring has also collapsed” (Munro 163). She purifies her language, rooms herself properly and does not talk about the grosser aspects of sex anymore. She transforms herself into a “cultured” woman, by societal definitions and “[becomes] part of a circle in Jubilee that took in the girls who worked in stores and offices, as well as some married girls, who had recently left their Jobs” (Munro 169). nowledge she can. She wears “grubby sweaters and [has] greasy hair” (Munro 168). Her opinions are similar to her mother’s and she gives more significance to her education. When Naomi starts buying items for her marriage, Del is still unsure as to whether she wants to marry. Consequently, Naomi drifts away from Del and “[they] become strangers to each other’s houses” (Munro 181). Naomi befriends other high- class women and this gives a picture of how Del is socially isolated due to her heightened interest in learning rather than clothes and marriage.
Naomi’s choice to transform also illustrates how a girl’s life is greatly controlled by societal morals instead of her own and supports the theme. The theme is also developed through Munro’s use of the settings of the Flats Road and Jubilee. The Flats Road is described to be backwards, isolated and a home o “drunkenness, sexual looseness, dirty language, haphazard lives and contented ignorance” (Munro 10). The Flats Road represents women who do not follow the conventional definition of a woman approved by the society.
At the same time, Jubilee is looked at with fondness by Ada, described saying “There’s Jubilee, the metropolis” (Munro 65). Jubilee represents women who are mannered and high- class. The people of Jubilee look down upon the people living in the Flats Road as they are considered ill-mannered. Del describes their isolation in the Flats Road by aying, “we were in a house as small and shut-up as any boat is on the sea, in the middle of a tide of howling weather” (Munro 27).
This proves that Del feels isolated in the limiting world of the Flats Road in the same way women who do not follow societal traditions are isolated by the society, in this case, Jubilee. Hence, Munro effectively shows that social success or failure of women depends on the choices women make and society’s key role in their lives. Additionally, Munro uses internal and external conflicts to engage the reader and develop the theme. The physical conflict between Del and Garnet when they go wimming amplifies the theme as he nearly drowns her.
Garnet tells her “to get baptized and marry [him]” (Munro 221). Del replies, “l dont want to be baptized” (Munro 221). As a result, Garnet almost drowns her amidst his anger. Del rejects societal traditions by refusing baptism, ending her relationship with Garnet. He does not contact her afterwards and their relationship ends because Del does not succumb to his expectations. Due to that, she is not able to fit in with Garnet or his family. Internal conflict is seen when Garnet asks her if she would like to have a baby. Del instantly says “yes”, but then wonders, “where would such a lie come from?
It was not a lie” (Munro 221). Del does not want a baby then, but she agrees Just to please Garnet. It demonstrates that she knows that their relationship will not last if she does not agree with him. Garnet, like the society, expects Del to marry him and have a baby, but she does not want to follow societal expectations. However, she tries to follow them in order to fit in with Garnet. Del changes herself to cope up with his expectations and it clearly presents how the society critically influences women’s hoices and compels them to reform themselves to fit in.
In the same fashion, Munro uses narration to develop the theme and support it. For example, after leaving Garnet, Del thinks, “And already I felt my old self-my old devious, isolated self-beginning to breathe again” (Munro 224). Del feels confined and a girlfriend. However, as soon as she breaks the societal bounds and refuses to be baptized, her relationship ends, leaving her “isolated” once again. On another occasion, Del wonders, “Garnet [hates] it when people use big words and go against his ideas, then why does he not hate me?
Maybe because I have successfully hid from him what I am like” (Munro 205). Del is an independent woman who thinks for herself and likes to make her opinions known. Garnet does not like people, especially women, who do that. That is why, Del hides her real personality from Garnet and maintains her relationship. It illustrates how a woman must follow social trends and expectations in order to be loved and accepted. Both of the above examples prove how Del tries to fit in by acting like a “traditional” woman and changes herself for the sake of societal expectations and traditions.
All in all, Munro effectively uses characterization, setting, conflict and narration to develop the theme of making decisions while entering womanhood. Dells Journey illustrates how women try to follow societal traditions in order to be accepted and be loved. Moreover, society plays a significant role in shaping the lives of girls and women. However, most women do not recognize this notion and willingly change themselves for love, family and culture. Word Count 1453; Size 12 Calibri ; Double Spaced. Works Cited Munro, Alice. Lives of Girls and Women. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2005. Print