The Analysis of Male Characters in Short Stories by Sinclair Ross and Alice Munro
Having read the short stories “The Painted Door” and “How I Met My Husband”, it is challenging and interesting at the same time to compare the men in the life of the two central women character, Ann and Edie. The aim of this paper is to find similarities and differences between John, Steven, and Chris Watters showing that to get to know their personality determines the happenings and the sort of the story. It may be guessed in time whether it is a happy or tragic story.
First of all, before analyzing the characters of “The Painted Door”, a general idea about Sinclair Ross's average protagonists will be introduced. As The Oxford Companion to Canadian Studies points out, “Ross (…) captures the harsh, impoverished lives of prairie farmers and townspeople during the dust - and drought - ridden years of the Depression. Stories such as (…) The painted door resonate with isolation, bone - wearying labor, helplessness in the face of elements, and psychological strain, especially between husbands ad wives”1.
The hero of The Painted Door is a farmer named John. Although his character is one of the main influential factor of the story, he is only present in the beginnings. He is seen through the eyes of his wife, although the narrator is objective while describing him. John will be appreciated only after Ann realizes that all of his characteristics she disliked before are in fact valuable.
In the story, John has been living with his wife for seven years together, without a child. Although nothing is said about the importance of the lack of children, it may be one of the reasons for their unhappy marriage. Ann supposes their life is being invariable as all days are the same cyclic process like from the first day of their marriage.
John is a calm, honest, and strong man; the classic type of a farmer. He loves his wife and wants to give her everything he thinks she needs. In fact, this is what motivates him to work harder and harder. As a realistic man, at first he wants to establish safety, although it is not the most important aspect for Ann. His wife, instead, dreams about not being lonely, talking with him and simply living a life, which does not consist of day long loneliness and the constant waiting for his husband to arrive home.
His main mistake - if we can call it so - is the inability to communicate with his wife. As stated by a student “The story is about a man and a woman in a non-communicational marriage”4. He loves her but he does not consider it necessary to show or say it aloud. His big gesture is the hard work, the sacrifice he makes every day but he is unable to realize that this is not the right way to save his marriage.
John is a very responsible man, who knows his duty. This is why he sets out for the walk before the snowstorm to look after his father. He is in a difficult situation because he feels responsible both for his old father and for his young wife. At last, he sets out and to assure that his wife will be safe, he invites Steven over to keep her company.
We do not know anything about the relationship between the two men. They are neighbors but not really close friends. It seems that John thrusts Steven, although he might have suspected that there could be some vibration between Ann and Steven. Years ago, when the two danced together, the whole community was talking about them and he must have heard that. Anyway, he does not give much for gossips, he trusts his wife.
At the end of the story, when he finds his wife and Steven in bed, after that dangerous route in the cold storm, he collapses. There will be nothing for him to live for so he leaves. He grows in the eyes of the reader as he does not make a scandal, although he could have killed Ann and his lover. He leaves in lethargy and does not fight the world: he froze to death in the garden as a martyr of love.
Steven is just the opposite of John. He is the one representing the Male for Ann, who is young and handsome. Possibly it is easier for Ann to dream of this character. Steven is described as a good-looking man who is much more communicative than John.
When John asks him over to be with Ann, he himself is not sure whether to start the route towards John's farm in the storm or not. Here is a difference between the two characters, as John does not hesitate before setting out: he is more determined.
Steven makes a big effort to reach the farm, and he thinks very much of himself; he underestimates John, he does not count with his returning home that night. He makes love with Ann without any regret or shame. Every reader might say that he deserves revenge but John does not hurt him: he is on a higher level than this man.
Now, before turning to the heroes of the other story, a general introduction into Alice Munro's characters will be demonstrated.
‘Alice Munro tells the large stories of people whose lives are outwardly small. Rarely does she write about the exceptional outsider. She is a great champion of ordinary outsiders, of people who in small and crucial ways don't fit, who need a better life than the one being offered to them.' 2 This outline fits How I Met My Husband, as the Pebbles are simple people, and Chris Watters is a really interesting outsider who cannot find his place in life after the war.
Chris Watters is the male protagonist of How I Met My Husband. He pops up in the story as a charmer, who evokes the feeling of love in Edie, the fifteen - year - old maid. He is a good - looking and young pilot who served in the war. He is free and independent, smokes cigars and flies around the country. All in all, he may be characterized as the real idol of Man.
Women adore him but he lives only for flirting. Chris flirts with Edie, he likes her girlish and fresh behavior. He charms her and when they are in the tent, he could do anything with her but he only kisses Edie. He says Oh no, frees himself and cools himself down with water. This shows that he knows the consequences of being intimate with a girl and he can act thoughtfully. He promises to write a letter to her and leaves - but never returns.
In the story, we get to know that he has a fiancée. Alice Kelling is a nurse who took care of him before the war and they got engaged. It seems that Chris wants to flee from this relationship but Alice is chasing him. Here arises the question why he does not break up with the woman, why does he let her hoping? Perhaps, he has already left her, broke up the engagement but Alice was not able to leave him. We can suspect it because when they get out of the car, Chris behaves very cold with the woman. He does not play with her although he could do it. For him, leaving is the best solution, leaving, before a relationship becomes too close.
He is unable to settle, he is always restless. This aspect might be translated as a post - war trauma. He wanted to settle before the war (that is why he engaged Alice) - but no more. He is not the man he used to be and Alice is unable to realize it. He does not really like people, only Edie, whose innocent shyness and kindness makes him feel good.
Chris might be interpreted not as a negative character, but a struggling hero who has lost his happiness. He did not become a thoughtless, rude person, who ruins the life of people around himself.
Edie's husband will be the postman, who we do not get to know very well. He may be a simple countryman, who works and lives in peace. He loves the girl who is waiting for the letters - and he thinks that the girl is waiting for him. He marries Edie and they rise up their children - as it is supposed to be. He is an average man: neither an intellectual as Dr. Pebbles nor a drinker as Loretta Bird's husband.
“Munro's tales almost always leave a reader feeling cheated, that they were promised something more, and Munro reneged on the deal.”3 says Dan Scheider. In fact, we may feel cheated, we could hope that Chris really liked this girl and comes back for her. But in reality, the men like Chris Watters do not come back, and happiness for a woman like Edie lies next to an ordinary postman not by a secretful pilot.
So far, all the important man characters of the two stories were introduced - John, Steven, Chris Watters, and the average (post)man in a way. To get some more idea about them, it is worth comparing them.
In my opinion, the only really negative character is Steven from The Painted Door. He is selfish, dishonest. Chris is a better character than Steven, because Chris is able to stop after kissing Edie, he knows that he would do harm to her if they get intimate. Steven does not care about the feelings of his ‘friend' John, or the future of Ann. He does not regret what he has done. The readers cannot forgive him, as in the case of Ann, for whom we feel pity. Ann realizes what horrible thing she has done against her husband and regrets it from all her heart. Her punishment will be the dead love and the pangs of guilt.
It is easy to see that John is a better man than Chris, but there are a lot of similarities between them, such as their brevity and honesty. Chris is a soldier and John is a man who walks a lot in snowstorms - they know what it is like to fight with death. They are honest, do not cause harm to anybody deliberately. They work for their living, do not cheat, and do not blame fate.
There was a big catastrophe in their lives - the war in Chris' life and the adultery in John's life. The difference is that Chris has continued his life after the war and he is looking for his place in the world, but in John's settled life there is no way to continue being after he has lost all what counted for him - his faith in Ann.
Both John and Chris are calm, introverted people, but there are differences between them. For example, Chris is smoking, tries to find pleasure in life, while John does not think of himself, he does not allow any weakness for himself.
Their fate is really tragic, there is no place to live for them although they would both deserve happiness. Both characters are able to go away if it is necessary, Chris flees from Alice and Edie, and John leaves Ann and Steven in bed without a word - there is nothing to say in these situations, and they know it. They leave, and in their departure there is sadness, the unbearable feeling of the unchangeable facts. They do not complain, they bear their fate respectfully, and for this we can really please them.
John, Steven, and Chris are pretty interesting figures. Their acts evoke different feelings while reading the two pieces. Also, both of the stories have affect on human thinking as they introduce everyday life situations that may happen with anyone. All in all, the man characters of Sinclair Ross and Alice Munro are very alive and human. The authors give good portrays of Canadian men.
1 Toye, William. (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983. p. 537.
2 Cunningham, Michael. “Applications of Alice Munro”. The Virginia Quarterly Review. Summer 2006. pp. 91- 107.
3 Schneider, Daniel. (ed.). Selected stories of Alice Munro. Vintage, 1997. <http://www.laurahird.com/newreview/alicemunroselectedstories.html>.
4 The Painful Marriage in “The Painted Door”. www.bookrags.com/essays
The full text of The Painted Door. www.fhv.umb.sk/app/cmsFile.php?disposition=a&ID=4834