The Theme of Choice in To Reach Japan, Leaving Maverly and Gravel
Alice Munros characters are typically torn between who they are and the role they have to play, which is imposed by external circumstances. This conflict can be hidden but it serves as the basis of decision making process, no matter whether this is done consciously or not. Thus, Greta, the protagonist of To Reach Japan seems to be a happily married woman at first sight, having a nearly perfect husband and a nice daughter. However, in the course of the story, the true essence of Gretas life unveils.
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The readers realize that she suffers from lack of connection not only with her husband but with the whole world. In fact, Greta is so used to this lack of communication that she takes it for granted and does not expect her efforts to find true attachment to be fulfilled. Her search for cure for her loneliness looks awkward at times, for example when she comes to an authors party where she cannot establish contact with anyone. This is why Gretas meeting with Harris and his pronounced decision not to kiss her looks logical in this series of causes and consequences in Gretas universe. At this moment the reader sees the breach between her reality and her dreams, which she does not even dare to think about until the end. This is why Greta hopes that the letter will not reach Harris as she is absolutely sure that all her attempts to connect to people are futile. So, the message that she sends him reveals the choice the heroine has to make:
Writing this letter is like putting a note in a bottle
It will reach Japan (Munro, 2012, p.15).
This choice between her common role and her aspiration becomes more obvious when Greta meets a young man on a train with whom she has an affair. This choice is quite unusual for the woman who is used to her usual circle of responsibilities and does not dare to live for herself: A sin. She had given her attention elsewhere. Determined, foraging attention to something other than the child. A sin (Munro, 2012, p.29). At this point Greta gives up and decides to make a choice in favor of her previous life, but Harris, who got her letter and meets her at the station, breaks her plans.
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Likewise, Leah in Leaving Maverly is a person the limitations on whom are imposed by her family. She is not allowed to do a whole range of things, such as going to high school or watching movies, or even hearing them while doing her new job at a movie theater. So asking the night policeman Ray Elliot to retell plots of stories is her only way to learn about the big world from which she is separated by her familys regulations. It may seem that Leah has no choice at all, at least it is implied that thinking about change or just having her own opinion is beyond her imagination. This is why the news of her elopement and marriage with a ministers son comes as a shock to everyone who has known her as a shy and humble girl. It appears that Leah bore deep inner resentment against her spiritual imprisonment; this proves that her will was not totally repressed and that she could make a choice of her own. However, her family life shatters, though together with the pain she also gets a portion of freedom and experience. Yet, this experience is much more down-to-earth and plain that beautiful scenes from movies, which were once a key to another life. It is remarkable that the heroine has a biblical name, which not only indicates her religious family background but makes her personality symbolic.
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In Gravel, the theme of choice is explored in a different way and lies mainly in the moral field. However, when discussing ethical choices and remorse caused by apparently wrong ones, the author implies that many of peoples decisions are momentary and spontaneous; they are run by unconscious impulses, which cannot be explained by reasoning. Even though these choices they are made in childhood, they affect the rest of peoples lives. Thus, the story of sisters that is described in Gravel makes the narrator contemplate her vague memories over and over again, wondering if her sister Caro could be saved from drowning. When she is grown up, the heroine tries to understand the true reasons for the unfortunate events that happened when she was just five years old and her sister was nine. As a child, Caro makes her choice too, even though it is not unveiled in the course of the story. The reader finds out that she might have jumped after a dog who she thought was drowning or to attract attention to her own situation of hidden misery.
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The girl witnessed her mothers unhappy family life, and this insecurity urged her to look for security of her own world in some way. Thus, her choice to save is to a large extent a reflection of her desire to be saved. Yet, the world is never safe and it slips away under the feet of those who want to capture stability forever. The talk between Neal and Caro reveals the extremes of security and insecurity, stability and change, life and death: She gets her dog food, Caro argued, but Neal said, Suppose she didnt? Suppose someday we all disappeared and she had to fend for herself? Im not going to, Caro said. Im not going to disappear, and Im always going to look after her(Munro, 2011, p. 94).
Male Characters: Ray Elliot and Howard Ritchie
When discussing Ray Elliot from Leaving Maverly and Howard Ritchie from Corrie, one should note that they are quite different in their attitudes even though there is some similarity about their family life. Both of them develop feelings for a married woman, even though their relationships and consequences are different. Ray Elliot is a policeman and a former Air Force officer, which describes his personality to some extent. His main value is duty; he wants to serve society and other people. It helps him preserve his own self-esteem. Elliot is the one who always finds people to support and in that way he feels that he is useful to the world: He came home with a vague idea that he had to do something meaningful with the life that had so inexplicably been left to him, but he didnt know what (Munro, 2011). This feeling gives him some comfort and security about his place in life. It is comfortable for him to accompany Leah and to help his wife Isabel who is ill. However, she places his identity in dependence on external circumstances and rules. To a large extent, meeting with Leah changes his life because his stability is broken; this is accompanied by his wifes illness developing. Ray Elliot is devoted to his wife; he even gets a night job in order to let her talk to him in the afternoons as she likes doing.
On the other hand, Howard Ritchie is a person who is attracted by the romance of affair with Corrie, which he sees as a cure for his boring family life.
Unlike Ray, he is not devoted to his wife, who seems quite plain to him. In her turn, Corrie is enigmatic and unpredictable, so he is easily lured into answering her letters from Egypt. The fact about blackmailing is ambiguous because it makes the reader suspect Howard of doing it against Corrie. This makes his personality undisclosed and his moral values doubtful. Moreover, the author made up three different endings of the story, which add ambiguity; however, all of them hint at Howards dishonesty towards Corrie, which adds a tragic note to the story. In case this version is true, Howard has just used his rich mistress for years lying to her and blackmailing her to get some money for him and his family. From the very beginning Howard treats the girl without a hint of romanticism: Not a soft woman. Not much meat on the bone...Howard Ritchie thought of her as the type of a girl who spent a lot of time playing tennis and golf. In spite of her quick time, he expected her to have a conventional mind (Munro, 2010, p.95). To a certain extent, he appeared to be right about her mind because it was easy for her to believe in the blackmailing story until she found out the truth. Even then Corrie is not ready to break up with him because she would prefer to pay for her twisted happiness, which in a way makes it obvious that they are a perfect couple. It is also remarkable that Howard was brought up in a religious family, but marriage is just a convenient social mask for him.