Readers of Who Do You Think You Are? first met Rose’s step-mother in “Royal Beating”.
In that first story, Flo was an agent of power (although at least part of her power is wielded through her husband), a force to be reckoned with for young Rose.
The neighbours have written to Rose and her step-brother, Brian, to say that they think it might be “time”. And, when Rose returns, after two full years away, she agrees that Flo can no longer live independently.
This question, of how a woman lives (and does not) independently, is at the heart of this collection.
From the outside, it would seem that Rose, who has achieved a modest success in her acting career has lived a successful, independent life.
But inwardly she does not feel confident about her choices.
“She had an idea that Brian and Phoebe moved in a permanent cloud of disapproval of her. She thought that they disapproved of her success, limited and precarious and provincial though it might be, and that they disapproved of her even more when she failed.”
Objectively, she recognizes that this is not likely a serious concern for Brian and Phoebe: “She knew it was not likely they would have her on their minds so much, or feel anything so definite.”
But she continues to feel as though she has not measured up to the mark.
“If you stay in Hanratty and do not get rich it is all right because you are living out your life as was intended, but if you go away and do not get rich, or, like Rose, do not remain rich, then what was the point?”
Flo and Hanratty and The World seem to cast judgment on Rose’s life, even though Rose recognizes that many others experience the same sensation, and it doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of the situation.
“Most of her friends, who seemed to her ordinarily hard-working, anxious, and hopeful, people, could lay claim to being disowned or prayed for, in some disappointed home.”
And, simultaneously, Flo represents an inward source of shame in Rose, for all that she has not become, but also outwardly exists as a source of pride, also for what she has not become.
“’Look at the Nigger!’ said Flo in a loud voice, before Rose was anywhere near her. Her tone was one of simple, gratified astonishment, as if she had been peering down the Grand Canyon or seen oranges growing on a tree.”
Matters of confinement, personal identity, class and race: “Spelling” is a remarkable story, but in the context of this collection, it depicts a vitally important shift in Flo and Rose’s relationship.
Have you read this story? Are you still thinking about reading some Alice Munro?
Note: This is part of a series of posts on Alice Munro’s story collection Who Do You Think You Are?, which will continue on subsequent Thursdays. Please feel free to join in, for the series, or for a single story. My Alice Munro reading project began with Dance of the Happy Shades, followed by Lives of Girls and Women, and Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, and I aim to read through her work to date. She is one of my MRE authors.
Next week’s story is “Who Do You Think You Are?”. It’s the last in this collection. Care to join in?