Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation offers a new exploration of the relationship between geographic awareness and literary realism in Alice Munro’s depictions of female identity-formation. It demonstrates how Munro, the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, uses the discourse of place and positionality not just as a Canadian regionalist writer, but also as a writer implicitly concerned with the paradigms of intersectionality as advanced in Susan Stanford Friedman’s 1998 book Mappings and in the recent work of feminist geographers. These theories shed light on Munro’s efforts to represent her female protagonists’ individual and communal identities authentically. Following an introduction in which I explain how Munro’s cautious statements about feminism relate to these recent geopolitical theories, my chapters examine groupings of Munro’s stories through concepts associated with locational feminism. Chapter 2 compares Munro to one of her major influences, the American regionalist writer Willa Cather, through the concept of geopolitical space. Chapter 3 applies this concept more closely to Munro’s portrayals of female maturation in Lives of Girls and Women and The Moons of Jupiter, focusing on a thematic tension between belonging and alienation. Munro sees women’s dilemmas of identity as deeply connected to their sense of place and their definitions of their home places and positions. Chapter 4 examines how issues of place and space, especially regarding what Munro calls “home ground,” affect the construction of relational identity in the title story of Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, and in several stories from the collection Runaway. Chapter 5 demonstrates how Munro employs the tropes of women’s mobility and travel -- usually seen as tools of empowerment -- to depict their unsettled lives, characterized by instability, insecurity and imbalance. Because these experiences have to do with multiple nodes of difference, Munro’s depictions of mobility as a mixed reality overlap with recent theories of transnational feminism. Chapter 6 deals with the question of narrative agency vis-à-vis locational identity and positionality in her collection, Who Do You Think You Are? In sum, the dissertation argues that Munro’s realistic focus on women’s lives and experiences, and her emphasis on strategic place-awareness rather than the goal of equality, does carry an inspiring message to her readers about the nature of empowerment in today’s world.
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