Alice Munro’s Black Bottom; or Black Tints and Euro Hints in Lives of Girls and Women
It is sensible to read Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women, her break-through 1971 linked-story novel, as an Anglo-Canadian realist intervention in second-wave feminism. The very title and the narrative of the developing gynocentric and feminist consciousness of the primary protagonist, Del Jordan, stress notions of female physical, intellectual, and metaphysical empowerment. The publication of the book at the height of the Women’s Liberation Movement demands the responsible teasing out of feminist thematics.
Less obvious is the 2013 Nobel Laureate’s interest in the multiculturalism that enters Del Jordan’s world through radio broadcasts, magazines, books, and, crucially, travellers, and which enables her actual “baptism” unto mature, intellectual self-awareness as well as sexual experience. In Munro’s fiction, multiculturalism is the subtle, 1970 Canadian “ism,” the silent sister of feminism (so to speak), but whose presence—especially in its black, racialized guise—is the actual catalyst for Del Jordan’s sudden advances in consciousness. With this frame in mind, enhanced is our appreciation of Jordan’s acquisition of an education excellently exceeding the Victorian, Eurocentric, and parochial limits of her rural household, school, and community. However, that’s not to say that Munro’s vision is unhesitatingly progressive….
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