Images by Alice Munro
In Images by Alice Munro we have the theme of trust, control, struggle, power, fear, acceptance and secrecy. Taken from her Dance of the Happy Shades collection the story is narrated in the first person by a young unnamed, female (child) narrator and from the beginning of the story it would appear that Munro is exploring the theme of trust. There is a sense that not only does the narrator not like Mary (her father’s cousin) but she also may not necessarily trust her. As to why this might be is never explained to the reader particularly when we realise that Mary’s role is to look after the narrator’s mother (and previously grandfather). It is possible that the narrator considers Mary to be an uninvited guest into her life something that becomes clearer when we realise just how dependent the narrator’s family are on Mary. If anything the narrator may feel as if her independence is being infringed upon again by (in the narrator’s eyes) an unwelcome and uninvited guest.
Munro also appears to be using light or rather the lack of it to highlight the narrator’s mood. She uses the word ‘dark’ on several occasions when the narrator is describing the inside of the house. Though in many ways Munro is also highlighting for the reader how the narrator feels about having Mary in the house. The lack of light also serves to highlight how life in general is for each member of the family. It is also interesting that Mary appears to be the only person for most of the story who is in control or has power. Not only is she looking after each member of the family who is sick but she also attempts to control the narrator. Something that is noticeable when Mary and the narrator are at the washing line and Mary tells the narrator to hand her the clothes pegs in an upright position. Though this may seem insignificant it is important as not only does it highlight that Mary likes things done her way (control) but it is also possible that she is unbending in her manner. Things must be done her way. Something that is also noticeable when Mary serves the narrator’s father his dinner with hard uncooked white beans.
The narrator’s relationship with her father is also interesting as there is no outward display of love or affection by either character and the narrator does tell the reader that her father ‘came back to us always, to my mother and me, from places where our judgement could not follow.’ This line in particular is important as not only is it confusing (for both the reader and the narrator) but there is also a sense that the narrator doesn’t really know her father. The closeness that one would expect between father and daughter is non-existent. Although it is also possible that Munro is suggesting that the narrator’s father may not necessarily be one to show affection. Something that is noticeable when both the narrator and her father are checking the muskrat traps. At no stage does the narrator’s father guide her. Something that is highlighted when the narrator is walking along the river and her father doesn’t warn her of the dangers of walking close to the water.
The encounter with Joe may also be important as it is noticeable that the narrator shows no fear when she sees him coming towards her and her father with an axe. There are several reasons as to why the narrator shows no fear with one of them being the fact that due to how she lives her life (or sees her life) the narrator may not actually fear dying and may consider it to be an easier way to go than to continue living her life as she does. If anything it would appear that the narrator is prepared to accept that she might be killed. The fact that the reader also learns that Joe burnt down his own house may also be important as Munro could be including the incident into the story to highlight how harsh conditions are. By also giving his cat straight whiskey to drink it is also possible that Joe spends the majority of his time (not only isolated from others) but drinking as well. Just as the narrator struggles in her life so too does Joe.
The ending of the story is also interesting as for only the second time in the story does the narrator appear to be in control. The first occasion occurs when she is with her father by the river and she wants to touch the dead muskrat though decides against it (by touching the muskrat the narrator would be able to get a real sense of what it feels like to be dead). However it is the second time that the narrator is in control which is the most important. Having been told by her father not to mention to her mother or to Mary anything about Joe’s axe, the narrator doesn’t. If anything she feels empowered knowing that she knows something that neither her mother nor Mary know anything about. It is also this sense of secrecy (about the axe) that also further empowers the narrator. Just as she was unsure of so many things about life throughout the story. Now she and her father share a secret that no one else knows anything about. It is also possible that Munro is using the axe as symbolism to highlight to the reader the severing of the narrator’s relationship with Mary now that she feels that her father is her ally. Both having something in common for the first time in the story.