An important question to consider in reading Munro’s short story ‘‘Day of the Butterfly’’ is whether the story is an accurate representation of Helen’s memories. The point is not to question the reality of Myra’s illness, of course, but to question Helen’s memory of her treatment of Myra. Childhood memories are often poorly recalled. Many are deliberately falsified and some are simply incomplete. Childhood memories are revised memories because of our need to protect ourselves and the image we have created of who we are. Helen’s rendering of Myra’s last few months in Grade Six is the memory of an eleven-year-old child, but it is told and filtered through the psyche of an adult. Remembering Myra and the events of that spring when she became ill is an act of atonement, in which Helen tries both to justify her actions and to rewrite them more favorably.
In telling a story, people often remember the version they told most recently, rather than remembering . . . Read More
Canadian Immigrant Life
For much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Canadian immigration mirrored that of the United States. Western European immigrants were welcomed in Canada, strict limits on Chinese immigrants were put in place, and by the end of the second decade of the twentieth century, sharply reduced quotas limiting the numbers of Jews and Italians were instituted. Because of the Great Depression of the 1930s, immigration was curtailed; however, as soon as World War II ended, a booming economy increased the need for immigrant labor, and Canada once again welcomed large numbers of immigrants to meet the need for workers. However, not all of the new immigrants were welcomed. For several years after the end of World War II, large numbers of people, who had been living in European Displaced Persons (DP) camps, immigrated to Canada, looking for a better life. In many cases, they faced discrimination. Many Canadians, especially those . . . Read More
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 . . . Read More
Miss Darling’s instructions to the class to be nice to Myra have exactly the opposite effect. The children not only begin to make fun of Miss Darling by imitating her words and actions, but they begin to treat Myra more cruelly, with little regard for her feelings. Before Miss Darling interferes, Myra is excluded from play and ignored, which is a different kind of cruelty, but after the teacher interferes in class dynamics, Myra is treated with contempt. Helen describes an escalation of meanness after the teacher gets involved, in which small groups of girls approach Myra to taunt her about her hair or her smell. The girls engage in a kind of mob behavior. None of the girls approach Myra individually to mock her unless they are in groups of three or four. The ridicule of Myra is so intense that Helen feels a sense of danger in just being seen walking and talking with her classmate. When forced to write a letter wishing Myra a quick . . . Read More
Miss Darling is the teacher for Grade Six. Young and inexperienced, she is more concerned about her own image than in dealing with the bullying that occurs in class. She lacks self-confidence and is unsure about what she should do. The older, more experienced teachers ignore the children at recess. They go into the teacher’s lounge and let the children do what children do at recess. Miss Darling, on the other hand, watches the children at play and is described as trying to direct their play or their actions. She is not at ease and is overly earnest about directing the girls in Grade Six, whom she asks to be nicer to Myra. The children easily pick up on Miss Darling’s uncertainty and exploit it. Because she has no understanding of adolescent behavior or of how bullying works, Miss Darling is completely unaware that pushing the girls to be nicer to Myra will have exactly the opposite effect and lead to more cruelty. Although the . . . Read More
‘‘Day of the Butterfly’’ is told from the perspective of Helen, and begins with Helen’s memories of Myra, a young girl with whom she attended grade school. Though Myra had attended the same school for a couple of years, Helen only remembers the last year, the year they were both in Grade Six. In Helen’s recollections, Myra is responsible for taking her younger brother, Jimmy, to the bathroom. After Jimmy wets his pants one day, Myra and her brother become the focus of school bullies. Jimmy is unable to go to the playground, since other boys will chase him and beat him with tree branches. The playground at school is divided into separate boys and girls sections. Because Myra protects her brother, she cannot enter the playground to play with the girls. Instead, Myra and Jimmy stand together and watch the other children playing.
When the teacher, Miss Darling, notices that Myra seems alone and lonely, she asks the other girls in the class to be nicer to Myra. . . . Read More
In Wetherell’s short story ‘‘The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant,’’ the narrator yearns for two things in the summer of his fourteenth year: fishing and Sheila Mant. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning short story author Robert Olen Butler, good writing revolves around the yearning of a main character. In his book From Where You Dream, a collection of lectures about the art of writing fiction, Butler examines this sense of yearning, which he claims is necessary for developing believable characterization. There are various forms of yearning. In popular fiction meant to entertain, the protagonist might yearn for a woman or a man, want power or money, or desire an adventure in some exotic location. But in literary fiction, which is written on a deeper, more thoughtful level, the protagonist’s desires are ‘‘on the order of: I yearn for self, I yearn for an identity, I yearn for a place in the universe, I yearn to connect to the other.’’ Both levels of yearning is . . . Read More
The Connecticut River
An avid fisherman and nature lover, Wetherell has written many essays about his adventures and explorations on the Connecticut River. This river has played a prominent role in the history of New England, being the largest river in this area (410 miles long). The river flows along the borders of New Hampshire and Vermont, continues through western Massachusetts and central Connecticut, and ends at the Long Island Sound. A heavy amount of silt often builds up in the river during the winter, creating several sandbars along the river floor and into its tributaries. These sandbars have historically made navigation challenging, resulting in a lack of major cities along its shores. Springfield, Massachusetts, is the largest city on the river’s shoreline today.
Due to the rising and dropping elevations of its floor, the Connecticut River has been a good site for manufacturing. This has brought business to the area . . . Read More
Conflict and Suspense
Good fiction writers know that to hold their readers’ interest they must create conflict and suspense in their stories. These two elements, which are closely linked, are often what keep readers turning the pages to find out what happens next. This is true in most stories, not just those that are overly dramatic or involve physical violence. Some of the best stories are based on subtle conflicts, such as the example offered in Wetherell’s story. Here the narrator’s struggle is internal. He has developed emotions that conflict with each other. He desires both Sheila and the bass, but he fears he will lose Sheila if he makes his passion for the bass known to her. So his love of fishing conflicts with his fear of losing Sheila. Though the reader knows that the narrator is fighting two different forces internally, Sheila is completely unaware that a conflict is occurring. This story demonstrates that not much outward . . . Read More
The main dilemma in Wetherell’s ‘‘The Bass, the River, and Sheila Mant’’ reflects one of the major themes of this short story, namely, the theme of sacrifice. The narrator is torn between his desire to impress Sheila Mant in order to win her affection and his love of fishing. At the beginning of the story, the narrator can enjoy both of his passions since they do not interfere with one another. He watches Sheila from a distance and entertains fantasies about who she is and how their relationship might develop. When he is on his own, he can either go out on his canoe or stand along the shore and fish without distraction. However, as the story progresses, and the narrator and Sheila are brought together, he discovers that his love of fishing and the potential development of a relationship with Sheila remain at odds. One of them must be sacrificed. Throughout the final part of the story, the narrator attempts to keep both his . . . Read More