'"First and Last”: The Figure of the Infant in "Dear Life" and ‘My Mother’s Dream’”

Ailsa Cox

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The title piece in Munro’s most recent collection, Dear Life, is one of four ‘final’ works that she claims are ‘not quite stories’ (Munro 2012: 255). According to their author, ‘they are the first – and last – and the closest – things I have to say about my own life’ (255). Munro’s assertion may be seen by those readers familiar with previous statements concerning the autobiographical basis of her work as a tease or a conundrum. My intention is less to unpick that conundrum than to examine the figure of the author as infant in a reading of ‘Dear Life’. Like ‘My Mother’s Dream’, which is also positioned as the final story in a collection (The Love of a Good Woman, 1998), ‘Dear Life’ reconstructs events from a first person narrator’s infancy, events which she lived through, and in which she played a key role – but which she cannot possibly remember. I compare the ambiguities of focalization through the mother in all of ‘My Mother’s Dream’ and much of ‘Dear Life’. I discuss infancy as a liminal condition, before the acquisition of language and the attainment of individual identity. Both works convey the fragility of infancy, and of the human condition itself, through panics and false alarms. But the baby also stands for continuity and endurance, ensuring the family’s survival and representing its hopes for the future. I shall argue that that the figure of the infant mediates between past, present and future, as a repository for memories which will be reconstructed and fictionalized throughout her own life. Drawing on Bakhtinian theory and Bergsonian concepts of time, I also discuss a confluence between endings and beginnings, in life, in fiction and in the nonlinear structure of Munro’s stories.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAlice Munro's Miraculous Art
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Essays
EditorsJanice Fiamengo, Gerald Lynch
Place of PublicationOttawa
PublisherUniversity of Ottowa Press
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)0776624342, 9780776624341
ISBN (Print)9780776624334
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2017


  • Alice Munro
  • short story
  • maternity
  • figure of the infant


Dive into the research topics of ''"First and Last”: The Figure of the Infant in "Dear Life" and ‘My Mother’s Dream’”'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this