The analysis of the two short stories “Spelling” and “Differently” written by Alice Munro deal with female relationships. These relationships paint a vivid picture of the kinship, deception, challenges, and associations that affect friends and family as they journey through life.
“Spelling” is about the relationship of two women, Rose and Flo. Although from the outset the relationship between Rose and Flo is not clear, near the end the reader has no doubt they are mother and daughter. Munro illustrates the awkward relationship between a parent and a child and the sometimes difficult problems that face children as their parents age. After visiting the county home in an attempt to find a place for Flo to live, “Rose spoke of the view and the pleasant rooms. Flo looked angry; her face darkened and she stuck out her lip. Rose handed her a mobile she had bought for 50 cents in the County Home crafts centre…. Stick it up your arse, said Flo” (Oates 151). The reader sees no affection between the two. In fact, the tone of the story illustrates a lack of acceptance and even disappointment by Flo and shows that there has always been a distance between the two.
The title is derived from a patient Rose met at the nursing home whose only communication was spelling words. After meeting this patient, Rose dreamed that Flo was in a cage and spelling words like the old patient she met in the nursing home. Rose tells Flo about her visit to the nursing home and is obviously trying to influence Flo into going to the home. Flo is suffering from some sort of dementia, perhaps Alzheimer’s. In this story the author doesn’t tell the characters ages, Rose’s occupation, and other information necessary to develop a clear picture. Instead, Munro makes the reader use more of ones imagination in developing the story. Although Munro is not explicit, the story is about an unhappy relationship between a daughter and mother.
In the story the narrator flashes back to a time in Rose’s career when she was in a play with her breast exposed. Flo showed her displeasure by writing her a letter that said “shame” and adding that if her father was not already dead, he would wish that he was (Oates 154). Yet, the reader feels that Rose is still trying to earn her mother’s respect and love. Another time, Rose invites her mother to an event where she is to accept an award for her work. Flo attends this function, although her behavior is outrageous and it appears that she is already suffering from some mental disorder. Because of her mother’s dementia, Rose must realize that she will never feel the love or affection of her mother. In the end, Flo agrees to go to the nursing home. It is not until Flo is in the nursing home that you see a humorous woman, perhaps what she was in her earlier years.
When Rose brings a wig that Flo used to wear, Flo makes a joke about it looking like a dead squirrel. They laugh about it and at this point you feel more of a connection between the two women than at any point in the story.
An analysis of Munro’s work by E.D. Blodgett tells the reader that “Her most recent work has addressed the problems of middle age, of women alone and the elderly. Characteristic of her style is the search for some revelatory gesture by which an event is illuminated and given personal significance” (Blodgett 1). In “Spelling,” Munro demonstrates this revelatory gesture by the incident with the wig. Near the end of the story it is revealed that Flo has a humorous personality. Her dementia appears to leave and she is clear-headed.
The irony of the story is that although Flo, who has had no relationship with her daughter Rose for most of her adult life, now needs assistance or nursing care and finds that Rose is the one who is at her side through this transition period.
In the second short story “Differently” Munro is also talking about the relationship of two women, Georgia and Maya. Munro points out that these women become friends on more than one level, sharing stories, secrets, and special times together. The mood of the story changes abruptly with the introduction of an illicit love affair and the betrayal of a friend.
“Differently” is an interesting story filled with descriptions that fill the reader’s mind with clear and brilliant pictures of the people, places and locations throughout the story. For example, when Munro describes Raymond, Maya’s husband, the image becomes as clear as a photograph. “Raymond’s curly caramel-brown hair has turned into a silvery fluff, and his face is lined. But nothing dreadful has happened to him – no pouches or jowls or alcoholic flush or sardonic droop of defeat. He is still thin, and straight, and sharp shouldered, still fresh smelling, spotless, appropriately, expensively dressed”(Ford 191). The descriptive view of Munro’s writing is shared by the Book Review Digest which stated: “Ms. Munro is a writer of extraordinary richness and texture….Her imagery stuns or wounds. Her sentences stick to the rough surfaces of our world. She has persevered through periods when her writing was unfashionable, and has deepened the channel of realism” (Towers 1285).
The title “Differently” reflects Georgia’s and Maya’s view of the world. Georgia is a traditional woman with basic values. Maya, on the other hand, is a free spirit always looking for adventure and excitement. Georgia envies Maya’s wealth and carefree attitude and the fact that she has had numerous love affairs. Maya is in charge of the relationship. The author illustrates this one-sided relationship by describing the way the women always go to the restaurants that Maya prefers. Maya even decides how they dress and act when they go out. For example, “There were two places, and only two, where Maya liked to have lunch. One was the Moghul’s Court – a seedy, grandiose bar in a large, grim railway hotel…. The other place that Maya liked was a hippie restaurant on Blanshard Street, where you sat on dirty plush cushions tied to the tops of stumps and ate brown rice with slimy vegetables and drank cloudy cider….When they lunched at the hippie restaurant they wore long, cheap, pretty Indian cotton dresses and pretended to be refugees from a commune”(Ford 199 200).
Maya has no problem living with the knowledge that her husband knows about most of her lovers. Georgia, on the other hand, has one affair that changes her life. Georgia is betrayed when Maya has an affair with Miles despite knowing that he is also Georgia’s lover. Even though Georgia knows the relationship will never work, she is hurt and unable to deal with the betrayal by her friend. Munro illustrates the anger and betrayal felt by Georgia, that cost her not only her husband, but her best friend as well.
When Maya came to seek Georgia’s forgiveness, she said, “Georgia this is stupid . I can tell you, he’s not worth it. It was nothing. All it was was Scotch and opportunity. She said, I am really sorry. Truly sorry…. Georgia put on her rubber gloves and started to clean the oven…. Georgia got a vengeful pleasure out of breaking with Maya. She was pleased with the controlled manner in which she did it. The deaf ear. She was surprised to find herself capable of such control, such thoroughgoing punishment”(Ford 210 212).
Georgia feels great pleasure over acting like this to Maya, because she finally feels in control of the relationship. She never talks to Maya again and doesn’t find out about her death until months after the funeral. Munro brings realization to her short stories and she clearly shows that each character has personal values and beliefs and they each view things differently. The ability to deal with these problems vary distinctly in each character.
The irony of the story “Differently” is not the loss of Georgia’s husband, lover, or the death of her once best friend. Georgia reflects back to the evenings in the book store, the light in the street, the reflection in the window. These were the things she missed most in her life.
Blodgett, E.D. “Munro, Alice.” The Canadian Encyclopedia plus (1995): 6 pars. Online. Internet. 21 Aug. 1997. Available http://www.tceplus.com/munro.htm
Ford, Richard, ed. The Best American Short Stories 1990. Boston: Houghton, 1990.
Oates, Joyce Carol, ed. The Best American Short Stories 1979. Houghton, 1979.
Towers, Robert. Rev. of Friend Of My Youth, by Alice Munro. Book Review Digest:
Eighty Sixth Annual Cumulation. 17 may, 1990: 1285-6.