Walker Brothers Cowboy by Alice Munro
In Walker Brothers Cowboy by Alice Munro we have the theme of paralysis, connection, acceptance, defeat, letting go, dignity, appearance and secrecy. Taken from her Dance of the Happy Shades collection the story is narrated in the first person by a young female narrator and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that Munro may be exploring the theme of connection (or rather the lack of it) and paralysis. As the narrator and her father are walking through Tuppertown there is a sense that very little is actually happening in the town. The men and women of the town are sitting out and the reader learns that neither the narrator nor her father know any of the people in the town which would suggest a sense of disconnection (or lack of connection) between the narrator, her father and the people in the town. It is also noticeable that the factory has ‘boarded up windows’ and that there was a ‘defeated jumble of sheds and small junkyards.’ Both these lines may be important as they suggest a lack of movement or progress within the town. Which in turn may play on the theme of paralysis. Very little is happening in Tuppertown.
It is also possible that Munro is exploring the theme of defeat, particularly when it comes to the narrator’s father and mother. The reader is aware the narrator’s father was no longer able to farm silver foxes despite his continued attempts at doing so. Similarly the narrator’s mother appears to be unable to accept that her life has changed dramatically and we learn that her way of handling the situation she finds herself in is to do so ‘with dignity, with bitterness, with no reconciliation.’ This line in particular is important as it also suggests that the narrator’s mother is unable to let go of what she once had. It is also interesting that Mrs Oliphant is the only neighbour that the narrator’s mother talks to as this would play on theme of connection or again the lack of it. Despite the change in her circumstances the narrator’s mother is unable to not only accept the position she finds herself in but is also unable to connect with her other neighbours. Unlike the narrator who finds her new life (away from the farm) to be somewhat of an adventure, her mother on the other hand doesn’t have such a positive outlook and if anything may be defeated by her circumstances.
It is also noticeable that the narrator’s mother still attempts to maintain her dignity despite the losses she has incurred. Something that the reader notices when the narrator and her mother go shopping to Simon’s Grocery together. We learn that the narrator’s mother always wears ‘a good dress, navy blue with little flowers, sheer, worn over a navy-blue slip.’ This may be important as by attempting to display a sense of prosperity or normality in her life the narrator’s mother is in reality not only trying to maintain her dignity but she may also be unable to let go of her past, when things were more prosperous for her and her family. Some critics may also suggest that the narrator mother is aloof and may in fact consider herself to be better than those who live and shop in Tuppertown. Something that the reader sense the narrator feels when she is with her mother in the town, longing instead to dress as she does when she is with her father. Who appears to fit in with others (noticeably the tramps) better than the narrator’s mother does. If anything the narrator’s mother is unable to let go of her past (on the farm) something that is even more noticeable when the narrator is eating ice cream with her mother and brother and her mother recalls stories from their time on the farm.
Despite the mother’s aloofness or bitterness about her past none of the rest of the family appear to live their lives confined to the past. Something that is noticeable when the narrator and her brother join their father as he is selling his goods. Rather than showing any bitterness about the past all three are moving forward or attempting to make some progress in life. Something that is obviously noticeable by the fact that the narrator’s father is bringing his children along with him as he is working. If anything all three are making a connection with each other as the father goes door to door selling his goods. While the mother remains disconnected, if not paralysed at home.
Though it is difficult to say for certain who Nora is, it is most likely that she is an old flame (or girlfriend) of the narrator’s father and what is really interesting about her introduction into the story is the life or happiness that she brings into the story which is in direct contrast to the narrator’s mother. She drinks whiskey with the narrator’s father, she dances with the narrator and she like the narrator’s mother dresses herself up. Though what is interesting about Nora changing her clothes is that the narrator when she sees Nora after she has changed her dress, thinks Nora dresses better than her own mother. This may be important (at least for the narrator’s father) as he may due to his wife’s outlook on life have regret’s when it comes to his marriage and if anything Nora could be seen as a competitor for his affections. Though Munro does not explore this in the story there is a sense that just as the narrator’s mother can’t let go of the past likewise her father too may still cling to parts of his past (Nora).
The end of the story is also interesting as though it is not said by the narrator’s father, the narrator is aware that she should not mention to her mother that they have visited Nora’s home. If anything she accepts that her father’s actions, by giving both her and her brother some liquorice, is his way of saying that the visit to Nora’s shouldn’t be mentioned to the narrator’s mother. The last sentence of the story is also particularly interesting as in many ways the sky being overcast ‘as always, nearly always, on summer evenings by the lake’ suggests that the narrator is fully aware of her surroundings and that rather than judging her father may actually be supportive of him or at least has an understanding of how difficult life is for him living with her mother.