'"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


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