Response to Runaway by Alice Munro

Our assignment last week was to read the title story from Runaway by Alice Munro and write a response to the class issues in the story. I really love Alice Munro. I listened to the stories in Runaway this summer on a road trip to Kalamzoo, Michigan and the title story was astounding, just astounding.

I workshopped a story this week in class about the friendship between two girls in junior high. Getting Rides has two major characters: a middle-class girl and a lower class girl. The feedback was good. People were pleasantly surprised by the ending. I got some helpful comments as well. Keith Abbott kept a copy to give me written comments later. I’m looking forward to those.

Reading Munro in the context of this course on social class and writing brought me even more insight. There is so much drama in interactions between characters of different social classes.

Clark and Carla are from different social classes and so do not know how to relate to one another intimately. Carla cries uncontrollably because she misinterprets Clark’s personality as anger ?. Clark does not know how to deal with Carla’s emotional display.

Clark has a chip on his shoulder because of his class. His proletariat status puts him in conflict with people from higher classes in the community. He has stores and people he avoids. He is also in conflict with his upper class customer who boards her horse at his ranch. When he steps out of his class and confronts Sylvia his demeanor is changed once the goat appears. He returns to his lower class role that makes Sylvia comfortable.

Sylvia’s upper-class status gives her access to more resources than Carla, such as friends. Her status also insulates her from the realities of the lower classes. She falls in love ? with her housekeeper, until Carla stops being humorous. Her upper class status allows her to have life changing experiences ?. She also is unable to see what Clark is capable of.

We’re using Paul Fussell’s nine class categories to analyze the class markers of the three main characters.

Clark’s middle-proletariat-class markers are:

  • Did not graduate high school
  • Owns property but uses it for income
  • Stern and non-expressive with Carla

Carla’s middle-middle-class markers are:

  • Step-father is a professional (engineer)
  • Family expected her to go to college
  • Concerned with image (redecorates trailer and calls it a ?mobile home’)
  • Rebels against her parents
  • Sexually repressed/frustrated (makes up fantasy to tell Clark but can’t admit to making it up)

Sylvia’s upper-middle-class markers are:

  • A property owner and does not use her property as income. She is a college professor
  • Travels to Greece with her friends
  • Casual about houseguests (suggests Carla stays with her friend in Toronto)
  • Sexually sophisticated (open with friends about lesbian relationships)

Each of the three major characters is from different classes and the conflicts between them are a result of their class differences. Carla misinterprets Clark’s behavior because she expects him to act from middle class values. Also, her middle class background has not prepared her to stand up to her husband or taught her how to respond to his behavior. If Carla were of the same class as her husband she would probably not be bothered by his quietness. She would also have learned how to confront him. If Carla were lower class she would not be able to connect with Sylvia, if she were higher class she would have been able to take Sylvia up on her offer of help.

Clark’s proletariat background has not prepared him for an intimate relationship with Carla. He does not know how to respond to her emotional display or her need for communication. He is only able to successfully interact with people from the higher classes for a short period of time before he finds himself in conflict with them. During his confrontation with Sylvia he is returned to his proletariat job of animal husbandry by the appearance of the goat. If Clark were higher class he would be able to communicate with Carla and Sylvia, and they would understand him.

Sylvia’s upper class status insulates her from the realities of Carla’s or Clark’s experiences. If she were of a lower class she might be able to offer Carla help that was useful to her. If there were no class differences between Sylvia and the other characters the story would be radically different.

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