A real life by Alice Munro I would like to start this presentation by asking you and myself something; what is a real life? I would like you to think for a few seconds, what is a real life for you, is it something subjective or objective, is it something easy or difficult to answer. Maybe, if we go beyond, I can ask you, what is real for you? Indeed, this is a difficult question, but I think that the writer of this story that we are discussing now, made a very close attempt to answer this huge question and she did it just by telling us the story of a simple and ordinary family.
This is the Beck’s family story; a Canadian ordinary family with three siblings, Albert, Millicent and Dorrie. However, it is through the differences between the two sisters, Millicent and Dorrie, how we can have a sparkle about what could be “a real life”. Millicent shows us the artificiality and hollowness of a social climber, versus Dorrie a true Canadian primitive that is remarkable for her integrity and innocence. Millicent was not an educated woman, she married to Porter, a land owner, and they had three children.
Porter promised Millicent only material things, but he was a good man, he did not interfere in how his wife manages their home, he did not care. Dorrie was a big woman with heavy legs, chestnut -brown hair and dark freckles like dots of velvet. She was well known in town as the lady who left skinned rabbits on doorsteps and who went through the fields and the woods with her dog and gun. She lived with her brother Albert and after his death by her own; her relationship with him was always based on real affection and authentic interests, she had a close bound with Albert.
This is the life that Millicent wanted Dorrie to leave, the story tells us the inability of Millicent to understand that Dorrie has a real life, she was free to do whatever she pleased, and to follow her interests no matter what people think about her, but Millicent thinks that she had to have a husband like every women of her age. “Somebody had to take the bull by the horns she said” (90). Millicent also had someone that she called best friend, Muriel a piano eacher, whose desperate mission in life is to find a husband. Millicent did not accept Muriel’s life, because she dated with married men, she was the only friend Millicent had since no women in society invited her to their meetings, she is a farmer’s wife. “Dorrie is a true lady, no matter what anybody says, she is a hundred times more a lady than Muriel snow, naming the person who might be called her best friend. I say that, and I love Muriel Snow” she said (64).
Millicent liked to go to church because she thinks that important people were there; consequently, she gave a supper for the Anglican minister and his friend from Australia. She tried hard to convinced Dorrie to marry the visitor from Australia, she said, “Marriage takes you out of yourself and gives you a real life”(86), but Dorrie thought “I have a real life”, she suffered a lot thinking that she had to left her house and her customs. She was not very convinced to marry Mr. Speirs, the visitor, although she had lots of common interests with him. Finally Dorrie married to Mr.
Spears, she had an excellent life abroad, she had learned to fly airplanes, she rode horses, shot crocodiles, even though her husband died she stayed there, living her life till she died climbing up to look at a volcano. Millicent and Muriel were impressed by her life, in fact Muriel also got married with a widower Christian minister, in spite that she liked to drink, smoke and also swear. Millicent thought that she was the creator o a life, something like a Goddess; she gave someone a real life, not realizing that she was living the life that she wanted through Dorrie.
As a conclusion, I would like to remember, the dramatic moment at the end of this story, where Millicent alone (because her husband had died years ago) was visiting old Dorrie’s house, now her property, remembering Dorrie’s past life among the walnut trees. She remembered how Dorrie and Albert used to collect the fallen walnuts, apparently a useless chore, because then they let them to rot. We can see Millicent was so puzzled and sad, but it still does not indicate us that she finally understood that Dorrie did have a real life, a life of customs and seasons”.