Red Dress by Alice Munro: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 The Dress
  • 0:50 The Truth
  • 1:16 The Dance
  • 1:41 Mary Fortune and the Boy
  • 2:28 Analysis of 'Red Dress'
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

What is 'Red Dress' by Alice Munro really about? Is there more to the story than the simple tale of a girl going to a dance? There is more, and in this lesson, we take a look at the surface story as well as the deeper meaning.

The Dress

If you remember feeling awkward during puberty, but also nervous and excited about becoming an adult, you will be able to relate to the main character in 'Red Dress.' The story is an adventure into the struggles of discovering sexuality as well as trying to fit in.

In the beginning of 'Red Dress,' by Alice Munro, we learn that our main character's mother is sewing a dress for her. The narrator comments that her mother liked to make things, but that the creation itself was never as good as her idea. Our narrator brings her friend, Lonnie, over one day, and they watch her mother work on the dress. The girl is embarrassed by her mother who sits weirdly, has creaking bones and complains about her own childhood. When the girls get away from the mother, they chat about boys and sex.

The Truth

The girl's mom is creating the dress especially for an upcoming Christmas dance, but the girl admits that she doesn't want to go. She considers faking falling off her bike to get out of it, but decides instead to try to make herself sick by opening the window, breathing in cold air and then smearing snow on her chest and sleeping in cold, wet clothes. Her attempt fails, and when the day of the dance comes, she is just as healthy as ever.

The Dance

At the dance, our narrator is a bundle of nerves as she watches the older students arrive and contemptuously ignore the younger students. At one point, a popular boy in school dances with the girl and then leaves. When she realizes he is not going to continue dancing with her, she is embarrassed. When no one else asks her to dance, she feels like something is seriously wrong with her, so she runs off and hides in the bathroom.

Mary Fortune and the Boy

Eventually, a girl named Mary Fortune shows up in the bathroom and invites the girl to smoke a cigarette with her. They sneak to an unknown part of the building. Mary explains that she is not boy-crazy like the rest of the girls in school. She has other goals and wants to be a physical education teacher. Mary invites the girl to have hot chocolate with her in a shop nearby. She accepts the invitation, but on the way out, a boy invites her to dance and she accepts. Mary leaves without her.

Later on, the boy she dances with walks her home, talks about a hockey game and kisses her before leaving. Our narrator sees that her mother is awake and waiting for her to tell her all about the evening. The girl decides that she is not going to tell her everything. She admits that she feels an 'oppressive' obligation to tell her mom about the evening.

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