A Daughter’s Journey: Escape, Regret, and Forgiveness in the Works of Alice Munro

The mother of writer Zhang Ailing regarded escape as the most courageous attempt in life and as the answer to all life’s problems. As a result, just as Zhang Ailing said, she wanted the essence of two worlds, her hometown and a foreign country, but failed miserably. In the end, because of stubbornness and pride, I refused to look back throughout my life.

Another female writer from Canada, Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, is different from the women in her novels. Although they are constantly escaping, leaving their families of origin, hometowns, and even marriage and children behind, they will always be there. After many years, he returned to his hometown and accepted the punishment imposed on him by his hometown.

In Munro’s novel, escape is neither the end nor the solution.

In today’s article, I will use Munro’s novels – “The Tranquility of Utrecht”, “Drifting to Japan”, “My Mom’s Dream”, etc. to share those who want to leave everything behind to be daughters, wives, and mothers. The character wants to escape.

“Sooner or later you will meet yourself face to face in Munro’s story.”

In order to better understand her creations, it is necessary to briefly introduce Munro.

Monroe was born in a small town in Canada. Her father was a farmer who raised foxes and her mother was a school teacher. Her mother was elegant and had high self-esteem. The way she raised Monroe was to hope that she would become a lady and a talented woman. From an early age, she arranged for Monroe to recite poetry on a local radio station.

When Monroe was in her early teens, her mother developed Parkinson’s disease, which worsened day by day. When Monroe was in college, she finally found the opportunity to leave her family. As a poor student, she struggled to survive, selling blood, working as a librarian, making tobacco, etc. After exhausting all these methods and still unable to become financially independent, she was left with only one Choice: get married, otherwise she has to go home and take care of her mother.

So in the second year of college, the 21-year-old Monroe interrupted his studies, married an upper-middle-class boy early, and soon gave birth to four children (one of whom died in infancy). Later, he married her husband. Opened a bookstore and continued to create while married.

The story about Munro’s creation has long been known to the public, and has been cited by many female writers as a role model for our generation. She could only create during the short two hours each day when her child was napping, and every time she found out she was pregnant, she began to write like crazy, writing to the point of having a heart attack because she was worried that she would not be able to create in the future. She is also the famous female writer who “doesn’t have a room of her own” and writes at the dining table for a long time.

It was not until the age of thirty-seven that she published her debut novel “The Dance of Happy Shadows”. As her writing career developed, her first marriage ended. Later, she married a husband who had similar interests and appreciated her writing, and she continued to write one book after another until she won the literary crown.

If we follow the logic of “Shuangwen”, we can certainly simplify this story into a counterattack from “full-time housewife” to “Nobel Prize winner”. We also secretly pray that the muse and female consciousness can fall on us at the same time like smallpox overnight. But the real story is not that legendary. Munro has had the qualities of a writer since she was a girl and even as a child. Rather than saying that she experienced a change of appearance, it is better to say that she finally got the opportunity to get closer to herself.

What is the difference between a born writer and artist and others?

A very significant difference is that when it comes to life, they are not experiencing it since childhood, but “recording” it. The red light of recording in their brains is always on. To others, it is something they encounter, and to them it is material. Even if they don’t know it at the time, once they put pen to paper, you find that the memory is as vivid as every detail of Nabokov’s butterfly specimen.

And every artist will have a core material, a theme that cannot be escaped throughout their lives, and a trigger point that first pressed the “recording” button in their lives. For Munro, this central subject is her mother.


“The Serenity of Utrecht”

Can you become yourself after escaping from your mother?

Munro began writing about her mother in her debut collection of novels, The Dance of Happy Shadows.

The best piece in the whole book is called “The Tranquility of Utrecht”. At the beginning of the novel, “I” returned to my hometown after being away for ten years and met “my” sister Maddie. My sister has stayed in her hometown and has a married lover. After a series of descriptions of the intimacy and joy of sisters getting together, the novel reveals a cruel aspect. It turns out that “our” mother died. After suffering from Parkinson’s disease for many years, “my” sister Maddie has been taking care of her in her hometown. .

“I” and my sister began to recall our mother. When her eye muscles were paralyzed, her eyes would turn white and she would make horrible noises, calling “us” loudly, asking “us” to serve her endlessly, like children. Constantly asking for love, sometimes attacking us with tears and fatigue. She would even continue to state to strangers, saying in an unusually slow and sad tone: “Everything has been taken away from me.”

My mother’s performative personality made my sister and I feel extremely ashamed and felt like we were participating in a vulgar vaudeville show. So every time “me” and my sister heard our mother’s plea for help, we would say to each other: “Go and deal with mom,” or “I’ll go and deal with mom right away.”

Originally, “I” and my sister agreed that one person would take care of my mother for four years, but “I” got married and escaped the responsibility of taking care of my mother, leaving my mother to be taken care of by my sister. From the perspective of onlookers, especially East Asians who value filial piety, the narrator “I” is simply treasonous.

So, can we really do better?

My recent experience just echoes this topic.

I was talking to a friend some time ago about his experience visiting Parkinson’s patients, and I learned that Parkinson’s patients not only shake uncontrollably, but also experience drastic changes in personality. The Parkinson’s patient he visited was demanding and called his wife 10,000 times a day. His wife had taken care of him all his life, but she was still overwhelmed. She hid in the yard in a daze every day, pretending not to hear his yelling. My friend started vomiting uncontrollably at the end of his brief visit.

And I myself recently stayed outside the neurosurgery ICU for a long time because a relative was seriously ill. Outside the ICU, there were all anxious family members of patients. I later discovered that the processes they went through were surprisingly similar: at first, the children and relatives held their heads and cried, saying that they must save their parents, even if they lost everything; after a few days, everyone stopped. Instead of gathering together to cry, they all secretly hide in the corridor and cry separately, not wanting other family members to see them; after a few days, there will always be someone who tentatively asks, “Why don’t we go back to our hometown?” Going back to our hometown means giving up. treat. A few days later, the patient and his family disappeared together, most likely giving up the expensive treatment in the ICU.

Finally, the person who has not been given up in the ICU is a young man in his thirties. The doctor told his father several times that there is no point in further treatment and the son will not wake up, but his father has been There is no giving up.

I discovered a cruel rule: only children give up on their parents’ medical treatment, but few parents give up on their children.

When parents lose consciousness, children often think when they are exhausted mentally and physically: If our parents could express their opinions, they would definitely not be willing to drag us down. They would also want us to have our own lives. So we took it upon ourselves to forgive ourselves for our parents.

What Monroe reveals honestly is how we forgive ourselves for our parents. In the novel “The Tranquility of Utrecht”, the narrator “I” chatted with my sister, trying to evoke memories of my mother, but my sister said, don’t think about it, don’t have those memories.

Next, the novel enters the second part. Munro is like a guide holding a weak fire in a dark cave, unknowingly leading us into the deep and dangerous core of things.

“I” and my sister went to visit my aunt. From my aunt’s mouth, “I” learned that my mother spent her last years in the hospital. My sister deceived and abandoned my mother in the hospital.

My aunt told “me” that my mother once escaped from the hospital and escaped in her pajamas on a snowy day. Monroe wrote: “As far as I know, she has been preparing for this kind of escape her whole life. “When she was taken back to the hospital, a wooden board was placed across the bed to prevent her from escaping again. Soon after this imprisonment, the mother died.

Just like that, the vision that “I” had been resisting hit “me” like a thunderbolt. “I” discovered that my sister was not as selfless and dedicated as “I” imagined.

After seeing my sister, “I” tried to comfort her and told her “don’t feel guilty”. My sister pretended to be calm and said that she didn’t feel guilty and said, “I want to live my own life.” However, her body was shaking unconsciously, and the hand in her hand was The bowl fell and she started to cry and said, “But why can’t I do it?”

Why can’t neither the “me” who escaped nor the sister who abandoned her mother in the hospital be able to have their own lives as they wished?

Is life always like this? If we don’t escape from our sick mother, we can’t be ourselves; but if we escape from our sick mother, we will be our incomplete selves from now on. There seems to be no way to get the best of both worlds.


“Drifting to Japan” “My Mom’s Dream”

Lust and self-actualization are the “opposites” of motherhood

This is the selfishness of Monroe as a daughter. So after becoming a mother, can Monroe—or women—get rid of selfishness?

When we describe mothers, the prefix is ​​often “selfless”. It seems that after becoming a mother, we can immediately and automatically become a new person, a giving personality that abandons our own desires and has no regrets.

Is that true?

Monroe answered the question.

Munro’s novel “Drifting to Japan” tells a simple story. A female poet who has only published a few poems takes her daughter on a long trip. She tells her husband that it is a vacation, but in fact, the more secret purpose is that she has been in literature. A man she met at the festival was waiting for her. On the train, the woman met a man, quickly succumbed to lust, and had an affair with the man. When she came to her senses and quietly returned to her car, she found that her daughter was missing. The woman collapsed instantly and frantically looked for the child. Fortunately, she finally found the child. The woman and the child got off the bus, and the man she met at the literary festival was waiting for her on the platform. End of story.

This ordinary novel has survived in my body for a long time, so much so that I get chills every time I think of it. why? Because it represents a woman’s worst nightmare.

I once asked a man what he thought was a man’s biggest nightmare? He said that he discovered that he had inadvertently had an affair with his biological daughter, and Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” filmed this nightmare. So what is the biggest nightmare for a woman, is to lose her child because of a short-lived and immoral passion.

Lust is obviously the opposite of motherhood, a desire that a mother should not have.

For today’s literary works, describing female eroticism is not a new thing. But Munroe is close to our grandmother in age. During her childhood, girls rarely read books except on Sundays, but knitted sweaters. She completely experienced the stages from a conservative and traditional family environment to the rise of the feminist movement—— It’s very bold to see her portrayal from this perspective.

The women she writes about – most of them are young mothers who are trapped in their families. They are often very panicked and confused when they experience erotic shock or unethical love, in train carriages, storage rooms, etc. It was as if I were suddenly caught in a whirlpool in a calm current. The woman was sober and confused during this process, with one thought after another flashing through her mind. “Children” was certainly one of the thoughts.

What is another desire other than lust that a mother should not have? It may be the desire to focus on work and realize self-worth.

As mentioned earlier, Munro wrote at the kitchen table and worked while the children were napping. When the children woke up and asked for their mother’s love, Munro could only push them away again and again.

The niece of the poetess Dickinson told a story that one day she went to Dickinson’s house. Dickinson put his thumb and index finger together, made a key, and locked himself inside. This is the daily life of a writer. Even if she does not lock herself up physically, she still locks herself up mentally. So, does a woman who locks herself in and her children out qualify to be a mother?

Munro has a very interesting novel called “My Mother’s Dream”. The story is about “my mother” from the perspective of a baby. “My mother” is called Jill. She grew up in an orphanage and is a violinist. “My mother” first fell in love when she was nineteen and met “my father” George. “My father” was a soldier and went to school before “I” was born. She died on the battlefield, and “my mother” could only take “me” to live with her husband’s family. “My mother” has discovered a problem since “I” was born. As soon as she started playing the violin, “I” would start crying. “I” also refused to breastfeed her mother. Her breasts were like monsters to “me” . Then, “my mom” realized that we were each other’s demons.

On this day, “I” started crying desperately again. “My” crying “was not so much a plea as a condemnation, an innate rage without love or mercy, ready to crush my mother’s brain at any moment.”

In order to drive away the cries of “me”, “my mother” started to play the violin. She played it over and over again, but found that she could not play her best music well. She realized that she had been completely defeated and her talent had been robbed. Empty. The whole time she played, I kept wailing.

“My mother” gave herself and “me” sleeping pills, and “we” finally fell asleep. My mother had a dream. She dreamed that she walked out of the house on a snowy day. Before the heavy snowfall, she didn’t know where she dropped a doll. She threw it away for a long time. Sadness and guilt filled her heart as she thought of the child waiting for her in vain.

Soon, “my” aunts came home and screamed when they saw the scene in front of them, thinking that the motionless “I” was dead. They shouted that “my mother” murdered “me” with a lot of sleeping pills.

But “I” didn’t die because the dose of sleeping pills was not enough. After escaping from death, “I” changed from a baby to a woman. Between surviving and enduring, and defeating “my mother” through death, “I” chose the former. “I” also realized that I would have to compromise in the cracks for the rest of my life, and “my mother” was the same. At this moment, “I” forgave “my mother” and “my mother” began to love “me”.

The ending of the story is very comforting. “My mother” graduated from music school, moved out of her husband’s house, married “my” stepfather, and continued to play in the local symphony orchestra.

Just like the aforementioned novel “Drifting to Japan”, everything was just a false alarm, the woman did not lose her child, and life continued.

But when reading Munro, we never feel relieved because of the seemingly peaceful ending, but are constantly palpitated by the horrific possibilities of the story – what if the mother loses her daughter because of an affair? What if the mother accidentally killed her daughter to keep her baby quiet?

The reason why these possibilities are terrifying is that they are so ordinary and everyday, hidden in every moment of a mother’s life. A moment of trance, a carelessly shaking hand when pouring medicine, a passing thought, may lead to the death of a child.


From the anxiety of dereliction of duty to the failure of escape

The anxiety of “the neglected mother” that often exists in Munro’s novels is a continuation of her anxiety as the “defaulting daughter”. At the beginning of her youth, her mother became the person she needed to take care of, rather than the person who could take care of her. But she ran away from the responsibility of taking care of her. Then, when she became a mother, she was unable to act in the face of a child who was waiting for food. As a child, did she have any confidence that she could do her job?

Moreover, her mother’s illness was not what she wanted, and she was ignorant when she became a mother at the age of 21. When fate came, she was passive and ignorant, struggling with various contradictory obligations. Did she want to obey or escape? Is it to follow family responsibilities or to listen to the call of inner impulse?

Under all kinds of pressure, Munro and the women she writes cannot help but have the urge to escape again and again?

Escape is not just to leave something, but is a habitual action that women take throughout their lives: first to escape from their original family, they escape into marriage, then to escape from their partner, to escape from childbirth, to escape from children, to escape from lust, to escape from incest. and escape into self-punishment. The fate of women is like the wife of Lot in the myth. She runs away while suppressing the urge to look back. Every step is thrilling. If she accidentally turns back, she turns into a pillar of salt.

However, women also know clearly that escaping is never a once-and-for-all solution. The mistakes they make bring heavy moral crises. They think they have run a long way, but when they look down, they are still struggling in the mud. When they look back, All the things you thought you were far away from are catching up from a long distance. The living drag their old bodies to reunite with the escapees, while the dead use their memories to collide with the escapees head-on.

More than ten years after writing “The Tranquility of Utrecht”, Munro wrote another novel called “Ottawa Gorge”. She went back a little further in her memory to recall the beginning of her mother’s illness. .

At that time, my mother was only about 41 or 22 years old, about the same age as Munroe when this novel was written. Initially, her left forearm began to tremble, and her mother would hold her arm tightly against her body to control the tremors.

One day “I” went to church with my mother. “My” pantyhose slipped off. “I” asked my mother for a safety pin. My mother gave “me” the safety pin on her petticoat. “I” saw my mother. The gray petticoat of my mother was exposed and looked slovenly. “I” was deeply ashamed of my mother’s unbearable appearance.

Later, my aunt told “me” her story. Her mother had a stroke and was bedridden with bedsores. She begged her aunt to turn her over. After her aunt turned her over, her mother died.

After “I” heard this story, I started crying and went to “my” mother and asked her to give “me” a promise that she would not have a stroke. This way “I” don’t have to take care of her or turn her over.

“I” kept asking my mother if her arms were still shaking.

The mother did not answer “I”.

“I wanted her to give me an answer. For the first time in her life, she closed herself up and rejected me. Without looking back, she continued to walk forward, as if she didn’t hear my questioning. Her figure in front of me was already like this Familiar, yet so strange and aloof at this moment, she retreats into infinity.”

At the end of the novel, Munro admits that she has failed to escape from her mother throughout her life – “My long journey of words is just to get close to her, touch her, separate her from the crowd, describe her, illuminate her She, praise her, and finally, get rid of her. But I failed to achieve it, she was always looming in places that were too close to me.


“When we write, we always ask for forgiveness.”

There is a saying that Munro’s decades of writing and more than a dozen novels all tell similar stories:

“A bright, lustful girl grew up in rural Ontario with little money, a mother who was dying of illness, a father who was a high school teacher, and a difficult second wife who was saved by a scholarship or some determined act of self-interest. , fled the remote countryside as soon as possible.

She married young, moved to British Columbia, had children, and then the marriage fell apart, and she was not innocent in the process. She may have a successful career as an actress, author, or television personality; she may have had several romances. When she inevitably returns to her native Ontario, she discovers that the scenery in her teenage hometown has long since changed. Even though she had abandoned this place, the fact that she was not warmly welcomed back home was still a big blow to her narcissism.

The world of her teenage years is sitting on the judgment seat in an old-school way, conducting a moral judgment on the modern choices she made. And all the crimes she committed, all the dislocation and harm caused, were only because of her. Trying to survive as a whole, independent human being. ”

When Monroe recalled her past self, she once said that the reason why she got married was to leave her hometown, “to write, to be able to settle down and refocus on important things.” She also said, “Now I Sometimes I still look back on those early days” and feel that “this young woman is really hard-hearted.”

However, she had to be hard-hearted, leave her sick mother through marriage, and then leave an inappropriate marriage through writing. Ultimately, be yourself. “Becoming oneself” is never achieved by simply escaping, but by exchanging one difficulty for another – or more precisely, by exchanging bearable suffering for unbearable suffering.

So, is there really such a thing as “no regrets in life”? The long night is like a rock, how can there be no regrets in life.

The life closest to no regrets is that if you had to do it over again, you would still make the same unforgivable mistakes, and you would still hurt the person you least want to hurt in your heart.

Although this will cause us great pain, we have to do it. Wittgenstein once said: “Any achievement you achieve will always mean more to yourself than to others. No matter how much you pay, it is the price you should pay.”

In Munro’s novels, the heroine is often lost in thought and begins to imagine another life for herself. What would have happened if I hadn’t left? What would have happened if there had been no divorce?

This kind of imagination is like making up for the futility of the past, and it is also like some kind of confession.

Munro once said, “When we write, we seek approval from our distant selves.”

This is a bit difficult to understand, but it can be summed up by a quote from the philosopher Theodor Adorno – “When we write, we always ask for forgiveness.”

Who do we ask for forgiveness?

To the dead parents, to the children I abandoned, to the docile wife, to the ignorant husband, to the betrayed hometown, to our torn hearts, to our irreparable past.

In the last story in Munro’s last book to date, Dear Life, she returns to her mother’s death again, writing:

“I didn’t go home when Mom was sick for the last time, and I didn’t go to her funeral. I had two young children and no one in Vancouver could care for them. We couldn’t afford the trip, and my husband despised ceremonies. But why Where does the blame fall on him? I thought the same thing. We say certain things that are unforgivable, things that we can never forgive ourselves for. But we forgive, we forgive every time.”

Finally, back to the theme of “escape”. There was once an interesting saying that the theme of a man’s life is “returning home.”

Beginning with Homer’s epic Odyssey, it tells the story of men returning home, whether it is returning home in rich clothes or returning fallen leaves to their roots. These are classic themes from poetry to drama.

Correspondingly, the theme of women’s life is “escape”, or traveling far away.

The story can unfold only when women leave the boudoir.

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