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About This Book
In her most personal collection to date,
Alice Munro has created stories based on her
own past as well as by elaborating on the
tracesletters, records, tombstonesleft
behind by her ancestors from Scotland who
sailed for Canada in 1818. In the title
story, ten-year-old Andrew Laidlaw is taken
by his father James to see the view of
Americathough later he learns that its
really Fifefrom Edinburghs Castle Rock.
When the family takes ship for the new
world, the father who had longed to leave
Scotland becomes solidly a man of his
homeland, nostalgic for the world hes left
behind. His daughter-in-law gives birth at
sea, and his son becomes intimate with a
young woman dying of tuberculosis. The
immigrants struggle to create a new world
for themselves, as their lives become a part
of the history of the land theyve settled.
A father dies, a newborn baby
disappearsapparently kidnappedand is found
In the second part of the book, Munro
moves closer to her immediate family and her
own girlhood in a world where families
struggle to get by on small farms along Lake
Huron. A hired girl, working for a wealthy
family at a summer resort, is faced with the
realization of her lack of status in the
social world. In an apple orchard, a clever
girl and a canny young man discover a
private place for romance. A young woman
about to be married hears about the love
affairs of her grandmother and great aunt,
and is offered a surprising gift. The
landscape, throughout, is marked with human
toil and traces of habitation, and all its
vanishing detailsa cellar hole, a
gravehold the stories of those who lived
there long ago. In The View from Castle
Rock, Munro brings the passions, the
labor and the yearnings of the dead to life
again, allowing readers to recognize, in
Visiting the graveyard of Ettrick Church,
Munro finds the tombstone of her
great-great-great-great grandfather, and is
struck with a feeling that "Past and present
lumped together here made a reality that was
commonplace and yet disturbing beyond
anything I had imagined" [p. 7]. What is
disturbing about this merging of past and
"The View from Castle Rock":
Agnes is a willful, sexually alert woman,
trapped in her fate as a woman and mother
[p. 72]. She is married to Andrew Laidlaw
although she had been involved with his
brother James [p. 67], who has already gone
out to Nova Scotia. Andrew, we are told,
"was the one that she needed in her
circumstances" [p. 55]. What might her
circumstances have been? In what ways does
Agnes seem to embody the desires and
frustrations of women in her time, and
possibly in our time?
Why does the old James mention "the
curse of Eve" with regard to Agnes [pp.
44-45]? Discuss Munros prose in the
paragraphs describing Agnes childbirth [pp.
46-47]. What is most effective, moving, or
realistic about this scene?
Though Walter refuses Netties
fathers offer of work and in doing so
refuses to commit himself to Nettie, in
later life "he will find that she is a
source of happiness, available to him till
the day he dies." He imagines her "acquiring
a tall and maidenly body, their life
together. Such foolish thoughts as a man may
have in secret" [p. 78]. Why does Walter
pass up this offer?
James Laidlaw has wanted all his life
to go to America with his family [p. 62];
why, once he is on the ship, does he lose
interest? Why does he become, on the ship,
so profoundly and comically a man of
Ettrick? What do his letters home [pp.
82-84] tell us about him?
Munro writes, "I am surely one of the
liars the old man talks about, in what I
have written about the voyage. Except for
Walters journal, and the letters, the story
is full of my invention" [p. 84]. discuss
the ways in which factual evidence [pp.
84-87] and imaginative embellishment work
together in this story, as well as the
effect of this mingling.
Andrew muses on what it was in America that
had suited his brother Will and also
possibly contributed to his early death:
"there was something about all this rushing
away, losing oneself entirely from family
and past, there was something rash and
self-trusting about it that might not help a
man, that might put him more in the way of
such an accident, such a fate" [p. 110].
Does the collection draw distinctions
between those who remain attached to family,
even in a new land, and those who are more
eager to cut their ties?
"The Wilds of Morris Township":
The Laidlaws who settled in Blyth,
Ontarioincluding Munros great-grandfather
Thomaslived seemingly joyless lives:
"without any pressure from the community, or
their religion they had constructed a life
for themselves that was monastic without any
visitations of grace or moments of
transcendence" [p. 118]. Munros father
marveled at the change, in a generation,
from adventurous emigrants to cautious
settlers: "To think what their ancestors did
To pick up and cross the ocean. What was
it squashed their spirits? So soon" [p.
126]. What might be possible answers to this
"Working for a Living":
Foundering late one night in a snowdrift as
he walked home from work, a father thought
only about his failures: about the fact that
he would die in debt, about his invalid wife
and the children he would leave behind. On
hearing this, his daughter wondered, "didnt
he struggle for his own self? I meant, was
his life now something only other people had
a use for?" [p. 166]. What does this
incident tell us the realities of adulthood,
and about the daughters ambition and her
sense of self-importance?
In what details does this story show
how lifes economic difficulties diminish
people? Does the father seem somehow heroic
in the face of his disappointments? What
becomes of the mothers early
entrepreneurial talents? How do these people
come to terms with their disappointments and
continue to face the future?
Bunt Newcombe is so brutal with his wife and
children that his daughter Dahlia speaks
constantly of her desire to kill him. The
narrator says that now such a family "might
be looked on with concern and compassion.
These people need help." But in that
time and place, such misfortunes were taken
at face value: "It was simple destiny and
there was nothing to be done about it" [p.
175]. The narrator, however, is also
sometimes beaten by her father: "I felt as
if it must be my very self that they were
after, and in a way I think it was. The
self-important disputatious part of my self
that had to be beaten out of me" [p. 195].
What does this story tell us about the
expectations of the world in which Munro
grew up, and about how she managed to
survive it with what she would need to
become a writer?
"Lying Under the Apple Tree": Since the story is told long after the
events narrated, an older woman is narrating
the experience of her younger self. What
effect does this have on the readers
understanding of the girls sexuality? Would
the girl have had the words to express what
she was feeling at the time? Does the girls
desire come through more clearly in the
words of an older woman? Think about Munros
perspectives, throughout the collection, on
sexuality and desire as experienced by
What are the signs that the Craik
family is slightly lower down on the social
scaleor at least on the scale of social
strivingthan the narrators own family?
What does she mean in saying, "I was
deceiving this family and my own, I was at
this table under false pretenses" [p. 218]?
How surprising is the storys ending, in
which the narrator discovers that Russell is
Miriam McAlpins lover?
As with "Lying Under the Apple Tree," this
story explores the experience of learning
about ones place in the hierarchy of social
class. The hired girl, noticing the
difference between the Montjoys kitchen and
her own familys, thinks, "it seemed as if I
had to protect it from contemptas if I had
to protect a whole precious and intimate
though hardly pleasant way of life from
contempt" [p. 240]. Given this feeling, how
does the girl handle herself in the presence
of the family she works for? What is she
This is a story about leaving home, and
about how marriage often was, for women, the
ticket out. Yet Aunt Charlie suggests,
intuiting the girls true feelings, that the
man she has chosen might not be "just the
right ticket for you" [p. 283]. Discuss how
this urgent communication between the older
woman and the bride-to-be is handled in the
narrative. What details make the end of the
story so effective?
The narrator goes back to visit the house
where she grew up, which has been modernized
by her father and stepmother: "So it seems
that this peculiar housethe kitchen part of
it built in the eighteen-sixtiescan be
dissolved, in a way, and lost, inside an
ordinary comfortable house of the present
time" [p. 289]. How does the story serve to
lay bare again the life within the house,
which the narrator calls "a poor mans
house, a house where people have lived close
to the bone for over a hundred years" [pp.
When her father says, "I know how you
loved this place," the daughter thinks , "And I dont tell him that I am not sure now
whether I love any place, and that it seems
to me it was myself that I loved heresome
self that I have finished with, and none too
soon" [p. 290]. How has the daughters
self-love helped her to escape from the life
she might have had, had she stayed close to
"What Do You Want to Know For?":
What is the connection between the major
elements in this storythe mysterious crypt,
the regional landscape and its history, and
the lump in the narrators breast? What is
the significance of the lamp sealed inside
the vault, and Mrs. Mannerows comment upon
it: "Nobody knows why they did it. They just
did" [p. 339]?
Munro writes in her epilogue, "We cant
resist this rifling around in the past,
sifting the untrustworthy evidence, linking
stray names and questionable dates and
anecdotes together, hanging on to threads,
insisting on being joined to dead people and
therefore to life" [p. 347]. What is the
overall effect of these stories, and how do
they make you think about your own familys
history and your place in it?
On The View from Castle Rock:
Discuss Munros decision to create a
collection of stories from her own and her
familys history. She writes in her
foreword, "These are stories. You
could say that such stories pay more
attention to the truth of a life than
fiction usually does. But not enough to
swear on. The part of this book that might
be called family history has expanded into
fiction, but always within the outline of a
true narrative". How and why is this
approach interesting? Do these stories, in
any substantive way, differ from those in
Munros earlier collections?
Andrea Barrett,Ship Fever;
Charles Baxter,Harmony of the
A. S. Byatt,A
James Hogg,Confessions of a Justified Sinner;
James Joyce,A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man;
Claire Keegan,Walk the Blue Fields;
Lawrence,Sons and Lovers;
John McGahern,Beside the Lake;
Edna OBrien,A Fanatic Heart;
Carol Shields,The Stone Diaries.
Reprinted with the permission of Vintage Publishing.
Page references refer to the USA paperback edition, and may vary in other editions.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Vintage.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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