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Alice Munro and the American South J. R. (TIM) STRUTHERS As a girl, Alice Munro lived in Huron County in rural Southwestern Ontario. In an interview with Graeme Gibson, Munro remarked that ... the writers who first excited me were the writers of the American South, because Ifelt there a country being depicted that was like my own. Ican think of several writers now who are working out of Southwestern Ontario. It is rich in possibilities in this way. I mean the part of the country Icome from is absolutely Gothic. You can't get it all down. 1 Munro has discussed the relationship between the American South and her own country in greater detail with Mari Stains by: If I'm a regional writer, the region I'm writing about has many things in common with the American South. Yourareaissouth Ontario. RURAL Ontario. A closed rural society with a pretty homogeneous Scotch-Irish racial strain going slowly to decay. 2 Thinkers like Allen Tate have recognized the individual, regional character of the dominant white society of the American South during the first part of this century and have sought to identify the features which defined it. Among these characteristics, which were reflected in the region's literature and which in tum impressed outsiders like Alice Munro, were: i) the decay of an order, or what Tate in a seminal essay entitled "The Profession of Letters in the South" called "the conflict between modernism and fundamentalism [which] is chiefly the impact of the new middle-class civilization upon the rural society" ;3 ii) an almost religious belief in the land and in the old verities, the humanistic values, which it symbolized; iii) a respect for family allegiances; iv) a concern for manners and a commitment to a code of honour; v) pride in race, religion, and class; vi) a deep religious belief, marked by a sense of sin and a profound awareness of the Bible; vii) a fusion of religious belief and social and political practice; THE CANADIAN REVIEW OF AMERICAN STUDIES VOL. VI, NO. 2, FALL 1975 viii) an inclination to tolerate the bizarre and the grotesque; ix)a strong sense of the past and of the viability of tradition. Severalof these characteristics of the American South correspond to the aspects ofrural Ontario identified by Munro in the interviews with Graeme Gibson and MariStainsby, and almost all the rest are equally applicable to rural Ontario, the location of most of Munro's fiction. In "Heirs of the Living Body," the second sectionof Lives of Girls& Women, Munro depicts the efforts of Del Jordan's Uncle Craigto record his family tree and the history ofWawanash County. Respect for thefamily and a sense of the past, two of the most important features listed, are as essential here as they are to Faulkner in his genealogies and history of Yoknapatawpha County. Many of the features which defined the dominant white society of the AmericanSouth during the first part of this century were characteristic of the blacks as well. It would be interesting to expand the present comparison to include an investigation of possible further relationships between the American South and rural Ontario based on black and Indian experiences, over a longer period of time, in the two places. A comparison of the societies and art of the American Southand of rural Ontario would probably somewhat resemble Max Dorsinville' s recent study of the cultures and novels of black America and Quebec, Caliban WithoutProspero.4 Dorsinville's book represents an admirable blend of imaginationand careful, well-digested research. Yet it is necessarily limited to a thematic and psychological approach. Comparison of the art of the American South and the art of rural Ontario, on the other hand, is more solidly founded on the similarity of Scotch-Irish settlement patterns and the intellectual patterns which theycan determine. 5 The profound influence of the writers of the American South on Alice Munro restson Munro's sense of kinship between the American South and rural Southwestern Ontario. On one level, their influence on Munro exists in terms of literary form. Lives of Girls & Women has been described as another collection of short stories, a story-sequence, or a story...


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