Adaptation in Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are?
In its most basic sense, adaptation is an act of modification aimed at re-adjusting an object or a being to suit new conditions; as the 17th-century usage of the word indicates, it is an action that is repeated every time something new occurs, and involves an ongoing translation of the old to accommodate change. When applied to thinking about identity, the notion of adaptation suggests a process of constant transformation in the encounter with various social and cultural patterns or texts, so that the self thus formed appears as an unstable and malleable construct, always subject to further modification. Moreover, the image of identity as adaptation disturbs the spatial relations between the interior and the exterior, thereby complicating the question of agency and presenting the subject as fluid and dispossessed, always torn between the wish to conform and the desire for rebellion.
The collision between the desire for authenticity and the social requirement of conformity is a major theme of Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are? (1978), and one that is intricately connected with the question of adaptation, whether literary, cultural, or social. As the title of the book suggests, the collection focuses on the formation of identity, foregrounding the role of images and of the social patterns of selfhood to which one should aspire. In these tales about Rose as she grows up from a girl into a mature woman, the key word is recognition: to be recognized as...
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