'"First and Last”: The Figure of the Infant in "Dear Life" and ‘My Mother’s Dream’”

Cox, Ailsa (2017) '"First and Last”: The Figure of the Infant in "Dear Life" and ‘My Mother’s Dream’”. In: Fiamengo, Janice and Lynch, Gerald (eds). Alice Munro's Miraculous Art: Critical Essays. University of Ottowa Press, Ottawa. ISBN 9780776624334

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The title piece in Munro’s most recent collection, Dear Life, is one of four ‘final’ works that she claims are ‘not quite stories’ (Munro 2012: 255). According to their author, ‘they are the first – and last – and the closest – things I have to say about my own life’ (255). Munro’s assertion may be seen by those readers familiar with previous statements concerning the autobiographical basis of her work as a tease or a conundrum. My intention is less to unpick that conundrum than to examine the figure of the author as infant in a reading of ‘Dear Life’. Like ‘My Mother’s Dream’, which is also positioned as the final story in a collection (The Love of a Good Woman, 1998), ‘Dear Life’ reconstructs events from a first person narrator’s infancy, events which she lived through, and in which she played a key role – but which she cannot possibly remember. I compare the ambiguities of focalization through the mother in all of ‘My Mother’s Dream’ and much of ‘Dear Life’. I discuss infancy as a liminal condition, before the acquisition of language and the attainment of individual identity. Both works convey the fragility of infancy, and of the human condition itself, through panics and false alarms. But the baby also stands for continuity and endurance, ensuring the family’s survival and representing its hopes for the future. I shall argue that that the figure of the infant mediates between past, present and future, as a repository for memories which will be reconstructed and fictionalized throughout her own life. Drawing on Bakhtinian theory and Bergsonian concepts of time, I also discuss a confluence between endings and beginnings, in life, in fiction and in the nonlinear structure of Munro’s stories.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: Alice Munro, short story, maternity, figure of the infant
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
Divisions: English Language & Literature
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Date Deposited: 17 Nov 2015 12:49
URI: http://repository.edgehill.ac.uk/id/eprint/6596

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