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Author Study: Alice Munro Curated by Jenny Fu '20

Thank you so much for visiting this LibGuide about Alice Munro! Whether you are here for a class, leisure, or pure curiosity, you will definitely find something valuable. I hope you will enjoy and get to know Alice Munro.

Themes and Motifs


Alice Munro is constantly praised for her intricate themes and use of motifs. There are some common topics which Alice Munro weaves into themes, but both themes and motifs vary significantly piece to piece. In this section, we are going to draw some general trends about themes and motifs by examining "The Beggar Maid." The original video below is a very concise summary, however, the alternative of reading the text is also available (in this case, please refer to "The Beggar Maid" reference material on the side-bar.) I hope you enjoy! 

Original presentation on Alice Munro's use of themes and motifs. 

Theme: Key Components

(Refer to "The Beggar Maid" synopsis on the side-bar)

Common Topics

  • Love
  • Class
  • Adultery 
  • Mother-daughter relationship
  • Betrayal 
  • Marriage 
  • Family 
  • Age

Emergence of Themes

  • Requires analysis of: 
    • Characterization 
    • Plot 
    • Motifs 
    • Allusions 
    • Details 
      • Seemingly unimportant sentences
      • Character reactions 
      • Tone 
      • Literary devices

Theme 1: When people conceal their true selves for various purposes, the adverse/unintended consequences emerge. 

1. Characterization 

  • Patrick: Less complex than Rose 
    • Timid, shy, and clumsy scholar. 
    • “But the deceits and stratagems were only Rose’s. Patrick was never a fraud… but Rose was no help. Presenting instead of an honesty passivity much twisting and fluttering eagerness.” 
  • Rose: More complex personality 
    • "Doing the right thing at the right time" 
    • Action can differ from the mind 
    • Extremely subjective: rejects labels and pressures 

2. Details 

  • Character reaction: 
    • Rose at registration: 
      • "Rose thought she was going to get reprimanded for not being at the meeting, and she was going to say she felt sick. She prepared her face for this lie..."
      • The secretary's response: "This could be your lucky day if you put a pleasanter expression on your face." 
      • Lie with purposeful intention ends in adverse effect. 
    • Rose and Patrick's Mother:
      • Rose is nervous meeting Patrick's Mother and wants to establish a good relationship. 
      • "Rose's voice came out full of false assurance, eager and inappropriately enthusiastic. "He must be a true Scot,"... she cringed afterwards... the pretence of ease and gaiety, as cheap as her clothes..." 
      • Patrick's Mother did not think highly of Rose.  
  • Literary Device: 
    • Rose at Hanratty: 
      • Rose brought Patrick to visit her Step-Mother and fears that Patrick will not be used to the country-side. 
      • "Rose tried to start conversation, talking brightly, unnaturally, as if she was an interviewer trying to draw out a couple of simple local people." 
      • Shows the negativity in action. 
  • Seemingly unimportant sentences: 
    • Rose does not want to be a scholar, but she thought "it was dangerous to mention things to Dr. Henshawe." 
    • Stopped confiding in her, but only made Dr. Henshawe push her to do things she doesn't like even more

3. Plot 

  • The Initial Concealment 
    • "Rashly, she presented her father to Patrick as a reader of history, an amateur scholar. That was not exactly a lie, but it did not five a truthful picture of the circumstances. 
    • Gave Patrick a wrong idea to start with and serves as the primary divide 
  • More Concealment 
    • "Energy, laziness, vanity, discontent, ambition? She had concealed all that. He had no idea." 
    • Rose hides her emotions again but paints an even more distorted image of herself. 
    • Begins to question whether Patrick will love the real her. 
  • The Final Breakup 
    • Rose: "I felt sorry for you. You won't look where you're going, you're always knocking things over..." "She wanted to beat him" 
    • Patrick: "I don't understand..." 
    • Rose cannot constrain the pressure and stress within herself, ending in a explosive burst of emotions that neither could understand. 


ULTIMATELY: Concealment distorts relationships in accumulating stress, guilt, and distrust. The couple not truly knowing each other presents a faulty relationship to begin with. 

Theme 1: Love is stained when it's purpose is other than love itself. 

1. Motifs 

  • Graduation picture of scholarship girls: Dr. Henshawe's oppression towards Rose. 
  • Florescent tube light: true concerns of poverty 
  • Round characters: humans and human nature are intricate
  • Painting: "King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid" 
    • Title of work 
    • Symbolizes relationship between Patrick and Rose 
      • Patrick = the thing 
        • "Patrick lives in a world of knights," "loves helping damsels in distress."
      • Rose = the beggar maid; poor country-side student 

2. Plot 

  • Rose:
    • "It was not the amount of wealth he offered, but the amount of love... she felt sorry for him, that she had to help him out."
      • If Rose thrusts back Patrick's love, he cannot bear it. 
    • "But that leaves out her own appetite, which was not for wealth but for worship." 
      • The size and weight of Patrick's love does not seem like an offering that would come again soon. 

2. Allusions 

  •   "The White Goddess" by Robert Graves 
    • Patrick says to Rose, "You don't know how I love you. There's a book I have called The White Goddess. Every time I look at the title it reminds me of you." 
  • "The Land of Heart's Desire" by William Butler Yeats 
    • "Rose read, and her eyes filled up with tears for herself, as if she was that shy elusive virgin, too fine for bewildered peasants... in actual fact she was the peasant, shocking high-minded Patrick." 


ULTIMATELY: The couple's motives are not for love. They assume themselves to be in love while in reality holding different purposes for a reunion.