Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Shining Houses by Alice Munro

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The Shining Houses

The theme of the short story “The Shining Houses” by Alice Munro is that when a person is faced with making a challenging decision in a complicated and conforming situation, the choice made helps reveal his or her individuality.

The general conflict in this story is Mary’s dilemma. She listens to both conflicting perspectives within her community, Mrs. Fullerton and her neighbors. The neighbors represent the present and the future of the community. They want a more modern, advanced area to live in but don’t even consider Mrs. Fullerton’s view. Mrs. Fullerton represents the community’s history. She’s unable to adapt to the changes of society and keeps to her barn, animals and crop-growing as opposed to new roads, market produce and houses. Mary knows Mrs. Fullerton better than anyone else in the community and does not sign the petition to take Mrs. Fullerton’s land away for a new lane. It shows that she stands up for what she feels is right. She’s the only individual who accepts Mrs. Fullerton’s uniqueness despite the inconsiderate input against Mrs. Fullerton.

In the beginning, Mary is open-minded and is always willing to learn more about Mrs. Fullerton, her past, and her love for her home and barn. In the middle of the story, she hears her neighbors’ perspective upon Mrs. Fullerton and her embarrassing contribution to the developing community. The neighbors clearly view Mrs. Fullerton as someone who lives in the past and who is unable to accept the reality of the future. Mary’s incapability of finding the right words to say to make a strong argument against her neighbors only leads her to make a stronger point by not signing the petition. Mary, who was then a quiet but good listener, now is a character who in the end reveals herself as a strong and courageous woman. She takes her observations to heart which shows that she cared about both views, but chooses to defend Mrs. Fullerton. As Mrs. Fullerton refuses to conform to society’s changes, Mary chooses not to conform to the neighbors’ decision.

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The title “The Shining Houses” is a society norm, separating the modern and the old. The Shining Houses stand out as the attraction of the community and create a sense of pride among the people living there. Mrs. Fullerton’s area is the only undeveloped place in the community, but isn’t noticed as a part of history. The title is more effective as opposed to “Mrs. Fullerton’s House” for example, because it makes the reader question the value of the shining houses and its role in the story. The title is more about developing the future than recognizing the past. Mary sees the importance of keeping history, and cares for Mrs. Fullerton knowing that her property is all she has left. With no other friends, both husbands gone, and children who also tell her she should sell her property, Mrs. Fullerton is left with only the people she sells her produce to. Mary is one of her few customers since the rest of them prefer the market because it sells for a cheaper price. Yet Mary decides to make her own choice and disagrees with the conceptions being made by her neighbors.

Mary’s decision in not conforming to the ignorant group represents her power within herself as an individual.

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