Foreshadowing is a technique that allows the writer to create a darker mood by suggesting an ominous change in events in the future. In a detective story, a writer might use foreshadowing to provide clues to help a reader solve the crime. In ‘‘Day of the Butterfly,’’ Munro uses foreshadowing at the end of the story to suggest that Myra’s future is dark and uncertain. The children playing outside in the last snow of winter, as the season transforms into spring, is a reminder that Myra may not be alive for the next snows of winter. Although Myra hopes for a future in which she and Helen are friends, foreshadowing suggests that Myra may not have any kind of future.
In a short story or novel, the term narrator is used to describe the person who tells the story. Helen is the narrator in ‘‘Day of the Butterfly,’’ and she is also the protagonist, the central character. When the narrator is a single person, the story is limited to that person’s point of view. She tells the story and interprets it for the reader, who learns something about the characters in ‘‘Day of the Butterfly’’ and almost nothing about their stories. This is because the other characters’ stories are filtered through the single narrator’s eyes. The first-person narrator is limited to only the details experienced by or told to her. Helen lacks the omniscient view of a third-person narrator, in which the author serves as the narrator, offering all views. In some cases, authors use multiple narrators, in which several characters tell their stories. This gives the reader the opportunity to see the characters from multiple perspectives. Since Munro uses only one narrator, readers are limited in their understanding of characters’ motivations for their actions. However, since Helen is recalling the story from a distance, and presumably as an adult, her first-person narration is also colored by memory, as she recalls the events through the passage of time.
A short story must, because of its brevity, define characters through their actions. There is no time to develop characters as a result of actions, as there is in the longer novel when an author can establish a clear cause-and-effect action. The short-story author must unite plot, themes, characters, mood, and tone using only a few words in order to create a narrative that reveals the author’s purpose in constructing the story. Since the writer has less time to create meaning, the short story is usually considered a more formal narrative than the novel. This shorter narrative contains a distinct beginning, middle, and end, unlike the novel which has the length to permit deviations from this tight structure. In ‘‘Day of the Butterfly,’’ Munro carefully constructs her characters through their actions. This characterization through action is seen in the depiction of the personalities of Helen and Myra. The reader understands that Helen is caught up in her desire to appear benevolent, as the reader learns directly from her thoughts; however, her actions in befriending Myra also reveal that she is a kinder person than Gladys. Myra, on the other hand, is shy and nervous on the girls’ first walk together. Readers do not know what she is thinking, but her frequent glances at the ground and to the side reveal her shyness and uncertainty.
Symbolism is the use of one object to represent another object. During the nineteenth century, American writers used symbolism as a way to infuse images of nature as representative of ideas, rather than simply as objects or beings. In late nineteenth-century France, writers used symbolism as a way to represent unique emotional responses, often in very complex ways. Munro uses symbolism in ‘‘Day of the Butterfly’’ to create complexity of meaning. For instance, butterflies symbolize transformation and the ephemeral nature of life. The butterfly symbolizes Myra’s illness and forthcoming death.
Touch is also symbolic in the story. Helen and Myra touch hands on two occasions: once when Helen shares her box of Cracker Jack and again at the birthday party in the hospital. Touch symbolizes sameness and danger. Helen realizes when they touch that Myra is exactly like her, but she remains afraid that by touching, the two girls have formed some sort of relationship, a friendship that might endanger or compromise Helen’s own fragile place within the class hierarchy. The gift from the Cracker Jack symbolizes friendship but also risk. Similarly, the gift from Myra to Helen, during which they touch again, is a symbol of friendship, but the possession of it is so dangerous that Helen gives it to her younger brother to destroy.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Alice Munro – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.