The monotony of life has waged war against the narrator in Alice Munro’s “Miles City, Montana.” The author depicts the narrator as a brittle woman in search of a personal identity among a community of conformity. This battle between domestic responsibility and personal satisfaction reeks havoc on the soldier of this mother and wife. Munro is a master of characterization, and through the protagonist she depicts the complexities of human nature.
Now, as the family of four travels across the continent, the narrator is able to slough off all the obligations which society has dumped on her. Almost relieved, “we shed our house, the neighborhood, the city, and…our country” (378). On the road, she is no longer forced to hide from the friendly phone calls or household chores. The narrator has been freed on the highway to Ontario, Canada. The Prisoner of War, held under siege in her own home, is liberated to be “hopeful and lighthearted” (378). This trip becomes a break from the life that she’s is currently leading, a life which society thinks should make her content. With this new bit of freedom the narrator is able to form an identity for herself.
Tragedy, however, almost strikes as the narrator takes this break from reality. As the family reaches Miles City, Montana, the two young children become captivated by the thought of swimming in a refreshing pool. No adults are aloud into the pool area during the lunch break, but the children are still able to take a swim with the lifeguard present. As the narrator steps out of sight, the youngest girl’s curiosity captures her, and she almost drowns in the pool. Meg had nearly submerged before the mother had a vague premonition that something on this afternoon is very wrong. Running toward the pool, the girl’s parents reach her in time, but this incident seeps much deeper as the mother gains wisdom and identity from the experience. She is a mother. The narrator has now accepted this responsibility, and will probably embrace other obligations within her community. As the narrator and her husband discuss which route to take on the way back to Vancouver, she is filled with “relief” (388) at the thought of home. That which was a prison before this fateful vacation has become a sanctuary, and there is a “surprising pleasure” (388) within this thought.
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