Voices by Alice Munro Summary

Instructor: Joelle Mumley
This lesson will provide a summary of the short story ''Voices'' by Nobel Prize winning author Alice Munro. The story captures a particular moment in time in both the life of its narrator and the larger world.

''Voices''

The narrator of Alice Munro's short story ''Voices'' recalls her impressions of a neighborhood party during wartime. These impressions not only give us the reactions of a young girl to an adult situation but provide a snapshot of a bygone place and time. Let's take a closer look.

The Narrator's Mother

The narrator of ''Voices'' begins the story by describing the kinds of dances her mother would attend when she was younger--country dances held in schoolhouses or farmhouses that featured old-fashioned square dancing.

Now a married woman with three children, the narrator's mother lives in what she considers an ''odd situation,'' neither fully in the town nor the country. The narrator's mother has ''risen'' from her childhood on a farm to become a schoolteacher but does not feel the acceptance or appreciation in town that she expected. Nor do those in the country appreciate her elevated language and manners. The narrator recalls not living up to her standards--resisting them, in fact.

The Dance

The narrator recalls a dance taking place on their road when she was about ten years old, near the end of the Great Depression. She knows little about the family that lives in the house where it's being held, only that the husband there works in the foundry even though he is very old.

The narrator does not know why the dance is being held, nor why she, rather than her father, is accompanying her mother there. The two of them are dressed in their best clothes.

When they get to the house, the narrator notices that her mother's dress is much nicer than the other women's dresses, and that her speech seems out of place. The narrator keeps thinking of questions she might have had about this situation, such as why there were lavish refreshments when everyone was so poor. The two deposit their coats in a bedroom upstairs, and the narrator follows the sound of music into the front room.

People are dancing there and the narrator notices a woman with a dress even nicer than her mother's dancing with a man. She later learns that this woman is a notorious prostitute named Mrs. Hutchison, and the man dancing with her is the owner of a local poolroom.

The narrator recalls going into the poolroom years later, when she is in high school, on a dare from other girls. When she recognizes the man inside as the man at the dance, she recalls that day again vividly.

Men's Voices

Her mother tells her to retrieve her coat so that they can leave. She runs upstairs to get it and encounters two men in Air Force uniforms and a young woman on the stairs having an urgent-sounding conversation. One of the men is rubbing the young woman's thigh.

The narrator relates the sounds of their voices, their gestures and their expressions, but not the particulars of the conversation. The men seem consoling and tender, and the young woman, whom they call ''Peggy,'' seems distraught. The narrator learns later that Mrs. Hutchison, the prostitute, had brought this girl with her to the party.

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