Short Story Cycles

The Uses and the Limits of the Short Story: The Function of Character Migration in Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women

This article explores the phenomenon of character migration in one of Alice Munro’s early works, Lives of Girls and Women from 1971. Munro vitally maintains the typical structure of the modern Anglo-American short story, with its tendency toward condensation and building toward its ending, as well as the form’s thematic principle of the epiphany concept. But she also allows her characters to live beyond each individual story, showing how they survive their climactic epiphanies and incorporate them into the larger narrative of their lives. In so doing, Munro challenges the usual distinction between the novel and the short story, illuminating what each genre is uniquely equipped to perform in terms of the presentation of character, while also suggesting the limits inherent in each.

from: Jacob HOVIND, “The Uses and the Limits of the Short Story: The Function of Character Migration in Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women“, E-rea [En ligne], 13.1 | 2015.


Note: A key quote from this article I found extremely interesting …

It is with this sense of life as combination rather than unity that Munro builds her short story-novel hybrid from 1971, Lives of Girls and Women. In this seemingly straightforward coming-of-age narrative, Munro traces a series of formative experiences in the life of its young protagonist Del as she grows up amidst a group of eccentric friends and family members in rural Ontario, and ultimately comes to develop a nascent artistic sensibility much like Munro’s own. These experiences, however, are notably presented as a series of discrete stories, rather than as a continuously building narrative, as Munro maintains the structural elements and thematic devices most typically reserved for the short story form, while also allowing her characters to evolve from one story to the next, so that they achieve an almost novelistic breadth of life. In so doing, I argue, Munro’s work erodes any easy generic distinction between novel and story forms, as her characters’ migration exists within, and depends upon, a new kind of form that cannot simply be called a “novel” or a “short story cycle.” Munro would use this hybrid technique once again in The Beggar Maid (1978), and in 2004’s Runaway, a collection which contains a kind of miniature novella charting the course of its heroine Juliet,1 but my focus is on the earliest work from 1971, as it most self-consciously acknowledges and employs its inheritance of the short story form’s conventions, while also suggesting the very limits of those conventions through the migration of its characters.” [emphasis mine]

Runaway‘s entry on


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