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‘Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You’ by Munro Essay

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Updated: Oct 15th, 2021

Introduction

After reading and analyzing Alice Munro’s stories form “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You”, it would be relevant to regard and discuss the issue of the importance of sibling relationships in those stories. They are: “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You”, “Material”, “How I Met My Husband”, “Walking on Water”, “Forgiveness in Families”, “Tell Me Yes or No”, “The Found Boat”, “Executioners”, “Marrakesh”, “The Spanish Lady”, “Winter Wind”, “Memorial” and “The Ottawa Valley”.

Thesis statement

In her volume, «Something I’ve been Meaning to Tell You” Alice Munro expresses the importance of sibling relationships that can be regarded as a central concern of the volume that unites all of its stories.

Discussion

Thus, it is important to note that the feature that unites Munro’s stories and helps to fully recover the problem of sibling relations is her liberation from the straightjacket of the ordinary life plot and its unexpected and unusual twist-at-the-end. In “The Spanish Lady,” the two twenty-one years apart arrivals of the narrator by train in Vancouver’s station are represented tied together in the story with the view to create a dramatic contrast.

To achieve the dramatic shape of her narratives and express the importance of sibling relations, Alice Munro uses certain double vision that includes paradoxes and parallels through the story. Another story called “Husband,” has an individual plot and, unlike other narratives, follows quite strictly a chronological sequence, so it is not hard to trace the development of the character’s relationship within their family.

The second story – “Material” “opens at a point in time near the end of the action, and the narrator, who is at the centre of the action, moves frequently and easily between present and past, establishing through juxtapositions and a dynamic confrontation and interplay of opposites in character and behavior, the differences between the attitudes of the artist and the attitudes of other people” (Martin, 1987, p. 78). In this story, the past and the actual husbands, Hugo and Gabriel, are represented as opposites at the beginning of the story. Alice Munro pays a great attention to family and sibling relations in this story effectively using those characters.

In order to recover those sibling relations, Munro uses a new creative method that produces a shift in the purpose and value of episodes within the story. For example in “Material”, the flooding of the basement in Dotty’s flat might be regarded and evaluated as less a unit in a chain of a plot rather then a device to concentrate the opposition and inside play between Hugo and the narrator that creates certain tension in their relationship.

At the end of the “Material,” the narrator, pondering on Hugo (who is a “phrase-maker”) and Gabriel (who is an engineer) suggests that they are “not really so unalike. Both of them have managed something. Both of them have decided what to do about everything they run across in this world, what attitude to take, how to ignore or use things. In their limited and precarious ways they both have authority… I can’t blame them for making whatever arrangements they can make”. (Munro, 1993, pp. 31, 43 – 44). By using those characters author points out the importance of sibling and family relations, she tries to show that they are both responsible for the consequences that appeared form their relations.

Although the narrator blames Hugo for unfeelingly exploiting Dotty, she is ironically intellectually closer to Hugo’s character than to Gabriel. In their relationship can be regarded Hugo’s supremacy over the narrator who tries to be alike him. In fact, she, actually, began Dotty’s exploitation while trying to become a “phrase-maker” like Hugo. The narrator describes the lamp of Dotty as a “whorehouse lamp” and she does so because she desires “to be congratulated on the accuracy of this description”. It might be suggested that such way the narrator tries to have the supremacy over Dotty in their relationship, as Hugo has.

But she has her own moment of revelation that brings a more generous evaluation: she is able to see that in the Hugo’s story he has suspended Dotty “in the marvelous clear jelly that [he] has spent all his life learning how to make; as an engineer, Gabriel has obviously spent a good portion of his life learning how to suspend a very different kind of material for very different purposes” (Munro, 1993, pp. 32, 44-45). This is a brilliant example of the importance of sibling relationship expressed in this story.

One might suggest that the “Material” should be actually the opening story in the Munro’s collection of the stories as it vividly and openly reveals the central theme of all author’s stories. This story represents differences and similarities between people from the different social castes, such as the artist Del and the common practical person. But the fundamental problem of the concern that ties all of the volume’s stories together is the issue of the importance of sibling relations.

Nevertheless, another story starts this collection of the stories giving it its thoughtful title – “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You.” This story fully recovers the problem of the importance of sibling relations by representing two sisters’ destinies. Here might be viewed two totally contrasted sisters, Char and Et. Although, it might seem that the lure Char is the centre of story’s interest, it is Et who represents the sense the story and is the key to understanding of the importance of sibling realtios.

Et’s character is described as hardworking and simple. Similar to Hugo and Gabriel from the “Material”, she achieves something in her life. Opposite of her, Char has a lot of advantages, but she wastes her life, and after that throws it away with assiduity and anger, “with a sharp mind and tongue, and also, one sees, with remarkable persistence, which is part of her integrity” (Martin, 1987, p. 80). She does not want Et to marry her husband Arthur, even acknowledging that she never loved him. Author raises here the issue of the importance of sibling relations by describing the commonplace conflict within those people’s family. The tension increases because of Et’s love to Char’s husband and the acknowledgement of the former that the latter does not love him at all.

Such complicated sibling relationship makes Et tell lie about Blaikie having now idea why she does so. “She had not planned anything. She supposed she might have wanted to make trouble between him and Char…. She did not know what she wanted. Only to throw things into confusion, for she believed then that somebody had to, before it was too late” (Munro, 1993, pp. 21 – 22). In this situation, possible prospective relationship with Char’s husband outweighed the relationship of many years with her sisiter.

Et had as a purpose to gain a husband for herself. Same as Hugo and Gabriel form the “Material” she makes whatever attempts and arrangements she can afford and make. The narrator of Material” suggests that Et should not be blamed for this by the reader, as sibling relations in their family were complicated and as a result they led to the tension, and eventually to the imminent disaster for one sister and favorable circumstances for another.

Those two stories are closely bound by common central themes of the role and the importance of sibling relations, and by the interaction of their characters. After reading those stories one is again guided to the question of why the “Material” is not the first story in the volume. It is easy to guess that if to change those stories’ places, then the meaning in the Et’s story would become too obvious and less interesting in the sense of revealing the problem of sibling and family relations.

It is really interesting and significant that the expression used for the story and collection’s title refers to something obvious but not told that concerns the problem of both sibling and family relations. For example, in the story, “sometimes Et had it on the tip of her tongue to say to Arthur, ‘there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you’ ” (Munro, 1993, p. 23), but still Et never tells him. Quite similar, Alice Munro has meanings and not plain messages of the importance of sibling relations on the edges of her stories; this makes them so exciting.

The third story provided in the collection is “How I Met My Husband”; it is closely connected with the previous two stories in being concerned with the issues of marriage courtship and sibling relations. Munro reveals a life story of the common, unpretentious girl narrator form the countryside – Edie surrounded by her family members with whom she has tangled and complicated relationship.

After that the reader is enabled to trace Munro’s central theme in “Walking on Water”. Observing skeptical and prudent retired druggist – Mr. Lougheed, it is possible to say that his character is similar to Edie’s, despite huge outer difference between them, by that both of them have complicated relations within their families. Here is used counterpointing method with the view to express author’s attitude to family and sibling relations.

The vivid example of the importance of sibling relations is represented in the episode when Edie laughs of her husband’s version of the courtship that he tells to their children: “because I like for people to think what pleases them and makes them happy”. At the next page, in the “Walking on Water” one can acquaint with old gentleman’s aim that “was to give people what they thought they wanted” (Munro, 1993, pp. 66 – 67). Despite the differences in sex, experience, age, education and temperament, those characters are united by that they are both on the edge of certain spiritual experience concerning the relationship within their families, which makes a trick on them – it eludes both of them in the end. Here author reveals the paradox of sibling relations to reader.

Similar to the first pair of stories – “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You” and “Material”, the pair of “How I Met My Husband” and “Walking on Water” the former of the two last stories would be less challenging and exciting for reader if it followed the latter, it would not be able to recover the problem of the importance of sibling and family relations.

The second story contains of the more specific religious significances then the first one, what makes the relations among its characters even more intricate, thus, they are more conscious of those religious issues. Therefore, it might be stated that if “Walking on Water” was the first story in the volume, then the delicacy of the propositions would be irrevocably lost, and the reader would be prevented form the deep acknowledgement of the importance if sibling relations, masterly described by the author.

Conclusion

“Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You” might be described as a constellation of stories that creates a gravitational field, where the stories are connected with one another in order to gain in force and meaning value when those who read them feel and imagine wide range of attractions and repulsions; these enables reader to undertake author’s concern about the importance of sibling relations that she reveals in her volume of stories.

While analyzing the stories form “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You” with the respect to the problem of family and sibling relations, it might be noted that they appear in certain clusters. After publishing this collection, Alice Munro told in the interview with Metcalf that, “although I don’t want to do anything that will box me in, I might find I was writing a bunch of stories all about the same situation. I’m toying now [15 September 1982] with a bunch of stories about marriages” (Metcalf, 1972, p. 58).

Following this, it is possible to say that everything written by Alice Munro in “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You” is aimed to reveal and help the reader to discover the importance of sibling relations, and, thus, is inflated with paradox, double vision issues, ambiguity and irony that help reader to understand better the problem of the importance of sibling relations. The paradoxes of those stories are deeply interwoven with the issues of likenesses and contrasts. According to Robert Thacker, “Alice Munro’s pieces typically contain oppositions and juxtapositions that constitute a contrapuntal structure and their interactions tend to produce a dialectical process” (Thacker, 1983, p. 50).

In those stories Alice Munro, indeed, pays great attention to family and sibling relationships, close connection between all of the characters, and to the sequence of episodes. She provides reader with the possibility to make a comprehensive analysis of character’s motives, actions and consequences of those actions with the view to make him or her to understand the importance of sibling relations. In accordance with Walter Rintoul Martin, “Alice Munro feels that this circumstantiality and prolixity of explanation will tend to be a labouring of the obvious and therefore tedious. Tedium is a state which she, with her quick and lively mind, thoroughly abhors”. (Martin, 1987, p. 93 – 94).

In her short stories Alice Munro reveals the issue of sibling relations; the characters of those stories are located apart in the creative space of the writer, but still they remain profoundly linked creating the atmosphere of excitement and keeping the reader in a strain. Robert Thacker expressed his opinion about Alice Munro’s “Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You” as follows: “Someone has said that the most beautiful parts of music are the silences between the notes; the truth in this indicates some of the distinctive effects in Alice Munro’s constellations of stories: the inter-stellar spaces provide hints of the magic and mystery that she told Metcalf she felt in the paintings of Edward Hopper and that she would like to convey a sense of in her own work” (Thacker, 1983, p. 50 – 51).

Works Cited

Martin, W. R. Alice Munro: Paradox and Parallel. Edmonton, Alta.: University of Alberta Press, 1987.

Metcalf, J. ‘A Conversation with Alice Munro’. Journal of Canadian Fiction 1. no. 4 (1972).

Munro, A. Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You. Toronto: ECW Press, 1993.

Thacker, R. ‘Clear Jelly’: Alice Munro’s Narrative Dialectics,” in Probable Fictions: Alice Munro’s Narrative Acts, ed. by Louis K. Mac Kendrick. Downsview, Ontario: ECW Press, 1983.

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