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Week 3: The Beggar Maid

The Beggar Maid

1. Unlike the last two books, The Beggar Maid can be considered a collection of connected short stories. Does this change the way you read the book? Do you think this style is more or less effective than the continuous narratives found in The Road and Waiting for the Barbarians?

2. We’re seeing a lot of big subjects in these first few stories, including beating a man to death, multiple cases of rape, incest, and other violent acts. With that said, it seems as if this violence isn’t the point of the book. Why do you think Munro includes this type of material in her stories? Do you think it’s an effective technique?

3. This book seems really interested in place. By that, I mean that the town itself seems like a strong, changing character as we proceed through the book. If you want, build off this idea: what do we learn from the town as a character, how do you see it changing throughout the stories?

4. Other thoughts, questions, things you’d like to address in class?

Comments

The Beggar Maid, as a collection of short stories, made the book less enjoyable than the flowing style of The Road. Though The Road was choppy with its fragmented paragraphs, it was one continuous story that you could lose yourself in. The Beggar Maid, on the other hand, forced you to leave the story being told and attempt to re-immerse yourself into a new story in the span of a few short pages. Acclimating yourself to a new scene and plotline is part of the joy of reading a new novel, but when the new scene and story comes just a few paragraphs after you have started, you are still stuck in the old story and cannot understand the new plot fully. Short stories are enjoyable, but Alice Murno’s use of short stories to tell a longer tale, did not take the effect she had intended. It simply broke up Rose’s saga into mismatched parts. The short stories making up a larger account seem much like the patches in a quilt. The pieces are all there, but they have not been sewn together to make a cohesive story.

For being the most ‘normal’ of the books we’ve read so far (In that it takes place in a realistic world, with nothing fantastic or impossible happening), I would say that the writing style seems to be the least focused and organized. It feels almost as if the narrator gets sidetracked, going off on tangents about seemingly random stories. But then again, I suppose there isn’t much to become sidetracked from as there is no real central important story to tell, just Flo and Rose throughout different points of their lives. This style contrasts to say, The Road, in which there was a definite flow and central narrative objective (Despite this, it did have its side stories, though I thought the telling of these was executed with more care to the book as a whole). Perhaps I’ll understand the structure of The Beggar Maid more after I finish it, but for now I find it jumpy and distracted.

The structure of the Beggar Maid leaves me with the impression of fragmented flashbacks of life during the depression/World War II, in England. The book seemed to me, like an aggregate of different situations that took place at this specific location. It seems that the author deliberately jumps around, leaving the characters distantly ambiguous, for the reason that the author wants to portray the lifestyle that people may have encountered. It is frustrating to me, to not really get into the characters head as we see so vigorously in The Road and Waiting for the Barbarians. If the author for example focuses on the character of Rose throughout the book, the reader may be more intrigued in what will only happen to Rose and not so much Flo, or someone like Cora. Personally, I like when the reader can be put in the mind of the main character. You know what he is thinking, feeling, seeing. And many times, like in The Road, the reader can almost predict what the father is going to do. Rose and Flo on the other hand, who knows? Were Roses’ feelings toward Cora sexual, or simply the yearning for social acceptance? Does Flo really resent her daughter and why does she knowingly allow her husband to beat his daughter in front of her? At this point of the book it is a vague understanding of the true spirit of the characters. We are rather left with the spirit of the time and culture they reside in.

Personally, I believe that The Beggar Maid is the best book we have been assigned! It is so real and no matter where you've grown up, there's is some part of the story that you can relate to. Whether it's the violence, Rose's resentment towards her parents, or elaborated gossip that consumes the town; everyone has experienced these things or has at least come in contact with someone who has. I've been presented with many of Rose's experiences and have often felt the same emotions, which is why I personal love the style it is written in. When recalling one's childhood, often many details slip through the cracks. We can only recall those that had the most significance upon our life, or those that were most exciting. That is the way the story is written. It is written with Rose's most significant events and emotions presented to us, there is no reason to have her whole entire life thrown at us. Honestly if her entire life was thrown at me I would only remember the big events, the stories that are presented to us in this book. The Beggar Maid is real, it does not need to follow rules or have a set plan. Real life does not follow rules nor does always go according to plan. In short, I love The Beggar Maid for its authenticity and simplicity. Sorry for all grammar and spelling mistakes =)

Having the Beggar Maid written as a bunch of short stories made the book a lot less appealing too me. At first, I had liked this writing style but then one thing came apparent to me. “What is the overall theme to this book?? I felt like these short stories are somehow going to tie themselves togethor one main storyline but so far, that hasn’t happened (only to page 57). The Road had a clear-cut storyline from start to finish. Waiting for the Barbarians started slow but eventually lead to a story. I think the author of this book put the stories there to tell the story of Rose but many of these stories have nothing to do with this character, and are directed to small-role characters. This becomes very irritating when there is no clear storyline. Another aspect of this writing style that I question is how the stories seem to jump out of chronological order. For instance, at the end of the first chapter, Rose is seen as an older and more mature woman and Flo was place in an old folks home. Then in the later chapters, she appears as a young girl.

I personally prefer the writing style of waiting for the barbarians due to the more straight forward approach of it. I did not care for the writing style in the road due to the choppy sentences and dry short dialogue. The beggar maid is more descriptive than the road; however I didn’t really like the begging of the book when she is a little girl. It was confusing and not very interesting, which is not a very good trait for a book with lots of description. Waiting for the barbarians has been my favorite of the three thus far; however I enjoyed the description of the school and the girl as she gets older. I think that the gruesome topics of rape and violence in general are important in the development of the girl but not to the overall effect and message of the book as a whole.

I think that Munro uses the violent references in her books so that she can explore how different people react to different situations. She presents these violent acts without dramatization or embellishment to show that the reactions of these are more important than the actual act. I think this method is fairly effective. For one thing, it can tell a lot about a character. The character of Rose isn’t disturbed by these happenings, but she views them as adding interest and experiences to her life. This represents her as a stable character, someone who isn’t very concerned as to what is going on around her. Flo tends to tell stories and make jokes out of the misfortunes of others, portraying her as insecure. I would also argue that Flo and Rose both react in these ways to keep themselves from becoming too depressed by the things goings on around them.
On the other hand, I would prefer if the violence was described in more detail and focused on more. It seems to me that in the real world, these things would have more of an effect on most people. If the violence was more dramatic, it would be easier to relate to intense feelings of the characters.

The Beggar Maid has a very specific audience it targets and I, not being in that demographic, have a hard time sympathizing with Munro's lesbian fembot content. The men of the book are portrayed as rapists, murderers, incest practitioners, or generally evil. In that light, the characters for me are very one-sided and the narrator, intentionally or not, presents a narrow, biased view. That said, the narrow, biased view also gives the text a personal flavor that is lost in narratives with omniscient narrators. Thus, the reader is left hearing Munro's voice come through in her stories and can establish strong connections between the content of stories and the beliefs of Munro. Another aspect I like is the attention to time and change that comes through--how does the town change, how do people change, what happens to people, etc. Munro begins stories with an incident or image that she loosely connects with a main theme, but she rounds the stories out at the end by bringing back images the reader might have thought useless or out of place. In doing so, she is able to smoothly transition to even more abstract ideas, such as the future lives of people or the town, with ease. At the end of a story, Munro has given the reader a lot of information, but is able to sew the various themes and images together in a way that keeps the reader engaged. The content of her stories is completely unidentifiable for me as a guy, and the haphazard form of many of her stories loses me at times, but I will give Munro some props on knowing her audience, getting scrappy in her descriptions, and drawing on temporal conventions to satiate the reader's appetite.

The writing style of this book pulls me in two opposite directions. I enjoy the short stories, but do not like the way Alice Munro signals who is speaking. The short stories make it easier to take breaks while reading. Where as in The Road it did not even have chapters so you had to try to remember the precise story line when you set down and picked up the book again. The short stories make the book more enjoyable because it is like you are reading several little books at one time because of the different story lines rather than one continuous story line through out the entirety of the book. On the other hand, I do not like the writing style of Alice Munro. I can never tell who is talking and what are just thoughts coming from the characters. I thought the road at least had spaces between the paragraphs and dialog. In The Beggar Maid I have had to read and reread several paragraphs or rather just guess at what the person is saying. The author also makes it hard to distinguish who the antecedent is when she uses “she? or “he?. She sometimes has multiple paragraphs without distinguishing who exactly she is talking about.

The writing style of this book pulls me in two opposite directions. I enjoy the short stories, but do not like the way Alice Munro signals who is speaking. The short stories make it easier to take breaks while reading. Where as in The Road it did not even have chapters so you had to try to remember the precise story line when you set down and picked up the book again. The short stories make the book more enjoyable because it is like you are reading several little books at one time because of the different story lines rather than one continuous story line through out the entirety of the book. On the other hand, I do not like the writing style of Alice Munro. I can never tell who is talking and what are just thoughts coming from the characters. I thought the road at least had spaces between the paragraphs and dialog. In The Beggar Maid I have had to read and reread several paragraphs or rather just guess at what the person is saying. The author also makes it hard to distinguish who the antecedent is when she uses “she? or “he?. She sometimes has multiple paragraphs without distinguishing who exactly she is talking about.

I too regard this book as a bit choppy. When I read short stories, I sometimes I wish the story could be longer just because I like the plot so the short stories may make me feel incomplete in a sense—kind of like an unfinished movie where the conflict may or may not have been resolved but you still want to know what happens after. However, it kind of reminds me of another book—“Why the Caged Bird Sings?—that I think has multiple short stories with a central theme going. (I might remember wrong) The short stories make it easier to read in shorter amounts of time. So if I have fifteen minutes here and there I can read a story or two whereas in the other books, I would have to set aside at least an hour which makes it inconvenient. Overall, concerning the effectiveness of this style of writing compared to other books, I think that the central idea may at first be harder to see until one has read the book in its entirety and goes back to contemplate what he or she just read.

I can’t resist saying something about the third point!!--> The fact that the book is “interested in place? reminds me of “Cold Sassy Tree? where the town (book is centered around the town) changes with the main characters and shows a change that is easier to see. So at the end of the book, you see how the main character has changed, and the town has also: similar idea for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.? I enjoyed both of these books so after I finish “The Beggar Maid,? maybe I will remember it as one of the enjoyable books I read.

Reading the book "The Beggar Maid" I realized how much I missed "Waiting for the Barbarians." While reading it I couldn't get in the groove of reading. Normally when reading a book I find a niche where I can just read for about 30 minutes and get through a chunk of the book. In this book I wasn't able to find that. This book reminds me of "The Road" since I couldn't really read either one. The short stories are good, but I just wish it was one long story, like many other "normal" books. I have never read any book similar to "The Beggar Maid" where the same characters are kept throughout the whole bunch of short stories. I expected to be introduced to new "main" characters at some point. I also thought that the writing style was kind of hard to read, obviously not as hard as "The Road," but pretty hard nonetheless. I look forward to finishing this book really soon and putting all the short stories together.

I like short stories although I do agree that sometimes I wish they would be a bit longer. This makes it easier to read than The Road. With The Road, there were no clear places to stop.

I like that the book is "interested in places" because the book seems more lively than previous books we've read. With The Road it seemed that places were not too significant.The father and son did not know where they were most of the time.They knew that it was always cold and dark. Alice Munro's description and center of places makes the book a bit more lively.

I found the layout of the different seemingly unrelated short stories to have some positive and negative features. First of all, it can be frustrating and hard to follow at times. Sometimes, I want to know more about a particular story or get extremely interested in one and then it would switch to a new one. On the other hand, it was nice to read quick and concise stories about the characters that were obviously of importance than to have to sift through some unnecessary situations. I felt that both in The Road and Waiting for the Barbarians, there was a significant amount of unnecessary and boring paragraphs and situations throughout. However, this is certainly not the case in The Beggar Maid. Alice Munro obviously utilizes this type of narrative style for some purpose. It presents a very fragmented storyline which in some respects is comparable to The Road. I think that Munro like McCarthy wants to present the story in this manner to show the lifestyle of the characters. I am sure that things will become clearer as to her intentions as I read more of the book. It will be interesting to see how things come together at the end.

The Beggar Maid, unlike the other two books, lacks coherency and instead it includes short domestic stories of Rose’s life and her interactions with her step-mother Flo. "The Road" possessed the reader to the end and kept us waiting for something extraordinary to happen; the journey of an old man, no matter how disgusting or filthy he was, also attracted readers to read along to finish the book. Knowing that, I think that The Beggar Maid is less of fanatic narrative and more of realistic memoirs of a third person which might be effective on some and not effective on others. I should put myself in the second group and say that I’m not really interested to know about someone else’s domestic life unless they have done something huge. The other distracting thing that I noticed in The Beggar Maid was random addition of characters; it reminded me of Tolstoy’s writings, the way he kept introducing characters in his book War and Peace. Overall though we can’t prejudge a book based on the first quarter of it…maybe something interesting will happen at the end.

I wish in the 'Beggars Maid' the stories would flow together better. You just find the climax of one story and then it stops. I would like for that excitement to carry over in to the next portion. This book moves a bit slower and I find myself forced to make it to a certain page before I will let myself stop and switch subjects for a while. I liked 'The Road' better because it was all one story relating to the same topic. 'The Beggar Maid' is more realistic of what we have known to be the past but there was not grabber. This book could not hold my attention. I do like it better than 'Waiting for the Barbarians' because 'Waiting for the Barbarians' required great imagination and I disliked the creepy old magistrate. I think Munro wants the reader to feel sympathy for the characters and I feel, as a read, I did feel toward each character as Munro wished. I think the town changes with the girl. As she becomes more mature so does the town she lives it. It is being portrayed in a new light. She is doing her own high school thing and her friends along with the town are growing up. A town has the personality of the people that live in it.

The Beggar's Maid moves at a much slower pace in terms of action. Most of the book so far is based on dialogue and interaction between the characters, where as in "Waiting..." and "the Road" provides a lot of details involving the thoughts of the characters and events taking place on the road or in the town. The beginning of the book sort of bothered me seeing as a lot of it was consisted of flashbacks. At times I found my mind wandering. It wasnt holding my attention the way the previous books did.

However, with that being said I do think (someone mentioned this above) that this book is a tad bit more lively. The characters dont come off as despondent and in the light of all this abuse and tragedy, they're are able to keep their heads on straight for the most part which keeps me curious.

I thought “The Beggar Maid? was much more difficult to read than “The Road? and a little worse than “Waiting for the Barbarians?. Because the author focused almost exclusively on the details rather than the big picture, it made it hard to tell what was going in the world around Rose. The extent to which she describes some details is exhausting. The portion on the train with the priest’s hand on her leg just goes on and on to the point where I had to put the book down because I was sick of hearing about how horrible it was that a sleeping man’s hand had fallen into contact with her. I personally think it would have been nice if she would have taken a paragraph to step back and give a broader view of the world. Once you get used to the writing style however it is possible to appreciate this book as a unique approach to writing. The author has really stepped outside the box and taken writing to a different level that, judging by her lack of awards, has not been widely received. I’m not sure whether this approach deserves respect or criticism.

Question 1:
The Beggar Maid's style is very convoluted to me, both because it is in the format of short stories, but also because within the stories themselves, the sequence of events can be painfully unclear. In the first story, there were many pages of character sketches thrown in, leaving the actual action of the story until much later. While I admire Munro's language and the complexity she enmbeds into each of her character's personalities, I would have much rather have learned about these characters over the course of a novel, or at least a more connected and sequential storyline.

But I do see why Munro chose the format that she did. I think that the main themes of what Munro is trying to get across would be lost if she had to fit it into the formula of a novel. There can be no real climax in these characters lives, just as there are no real climaxes in an individual's life. All we get in this story is the basic outline of Rose's life, and only about half of it's content, much as it would take years to find out the past of a person close to you, story by story.

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