Adolescence is a time of embarrassment, confusion, self-doubt, and physical maturity, which is exactly what the narrators of Alice Munro’s “Red Dress-1946” and “An Ounce of Cure” are going through. Both narrators in the stories are having difficulties expressing themselves: in “Red Dress-1946” she longs to be chosen by someone and in “An Ounce of Cure” she attempts to get over the one that has. Munro’s unique style of narration furthers our understanding of the narrators and their experiences through the use of tone and dialogue.
“Red Dress-1946” tells the story of an adolescent girl who faces the pressures and expectations of growing up and being a “normal” teen. We are limited to the first person perspective of an unnamed narrator. The narration of this story is very personal, like a diary, only the readers are aware of the narrator’s deepest fears and concerns which are kept secret from her best friend Lonnie even though they “had made a pact to tell each other everything”(Pg.134). The narrator has very little dialogue throughout the entire story, this hints at the reader’s that the narrator doesn’t have a strong voice. If we examine exactly what the narrator says, we notice that all of her phrases are extremely short or in questions form, for example “Thank You” (Pg.136), “It’s alright” (Pg.140), and “Where?”(Pg.140).
This proves her insecurities towards herself, she seeks answers because she wants to be told how to think rather than input her own opinions. She believes that agreement is important, not who with and a prime example of this is when she “decided to just say “H’m hmm,” and that seemed to be all that was necessary” (Pg.143), when she was walking home from the dance with Raymond. Her insecurities lead her to do “questionnaires in magazines” (Pg.134) to find out whether she had “personality” and would be “popular”, thus proving that the narrator values the outside opinion more than her own. Embarrassment and discomfort is what the narrator experiences at school and she clearly states, “When I was asked a question in class, any simple little question at all, my voice was apt to come out squeaky, or else hoarse and trembling.” (Pg.134). The tone changes throughout the story.
It first starts off with anxiety and strong emotions of shame, which causes her to thirst “to be back safe behind the boundaries of childhood”(Pg.136), she feels rejected but as the story progresses and the narrator meets Mary Fortune, the tone suddenly changes to much calmer, lighter and quieter. She starts to accept Mary Fortune’s world of being an outsider and is “grateful for her attention, her company and her cigarette” (Pg. 141), completely loosing hope of ever being “chosen” by boy. Just before the story ends, the tone is filled with relief and happiness of being brought “into the ordinary world” by her “rescuer” and making her life “possible” (Pg.143). Raymond gave her hope for her future and brought her from the outside to the inside. In the end when she says, “Was it possible, could I believe it, was there nothing the matter with me after all?”(Pg.143) this shows the low self-esteem she had throughout the entire story and that she has finally overcome it.
The different tones symbolises the different emotions she feels during her teen years, the tone is used to express her feeling because the weak dialogue cannot. Alice purposely doesn’t give the narrator much dialogue in this story to draw a comparison between the narrator’s personality and the way the story is written. Similar to “Red Dress-1946”, “An Ounce of Cure” brings forth the idea of experiencing difficulties in transitioning from childhood to adulthood. This is a story about a teenage girl who suffers humiliation and has a tough time coping with it. Unlike “Red Dress-1946”, this story is told by an adult narrator recalling memories from her teenage years, giving us not only a teenage point of view but an adult as well. Interesting enough, she has no difficulties retelling her embarrassing moments which had left her devastated at one point, this shows us that the narrator has overcome those moments and finds humour in her younger, foolish self.
An example of this is when she is explaining her relationship with Martin Collingwood and says “I showed the most painful banality in the conduct of this whole affair, as you will see” (Pg.69), she is clearly making fun of herself. She further explains the details of being “dropped” (Pg.69) for another girl and how dramatically she reacted to her teenage “heartbreak”. The unbearable heartbreak lead her to getting intoxicated one day while babysitting, which shows her “ignorance”(Pg.2) and “disastrous innocence”(Pg.72). When the Berryman’s arrive home and find her drunk she describes the “expression on their faces as appropriate to the occasions any old-fashioned director of farces could wish” (Pg.76). The adult is looking back at this moment like it was a comedy play and exaggerates their physical behavior. She finds enjoyment in the immaturity and foolishness of her teenage self. After many years, the narrator realizes that she overreacted to the rumours that spread “all over town” (Pg.78) like most teenagers and made a mountain out of a molehill.
She “was a self-conscious girl” and “suffered a good deal from all this exposure.” (Pg.79) but eventually got over it through the “terrible and fascinating reality” (Pg.79) of her disaster. Alice not only gathers sympathy for the narrator through the story but manages to do that while making fun of her. The sarcasm and humour adds to the tone of carelessness towards her past experiences. Throughout the story, her older self is reflecting back on her past and showing the readers that no matter how big the problem is, we will eventually get over it. She overcame humiliation with time and is looking back and reflecting on her past experiences, seeing them more clearly.
Through the right blend of the adolescent and adult voice, Alice manages to not only write a good story but send a strong message. Both these stories were about young teenage girls that face embarrassments during a time of stress and change in life, made relevant through Munro’s style of narration. Humour, tone, dialogue and sarcasm are just some of the techniques Munro uses to give insight to the narrators’ personality. The limited perspective of both narrators creates a journey for readers as they follow the whirlwind of events that occur.