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Volume 40, Number 2 (2015)

Good Enough, Bad Enough, Animal, Monster: Mothers in Alice Munro’s The Love of a Good Woman

May 11, 2016


This essay considers the dark ambivalence of the monstrous mother in Alice Munro’s work, in particular in her 1998 collection, The Love of a Good Woman.  In these eight stories — set from the 1940s through the 1970s — we encounter sickly mothers, stepmothers, mothers who abandon their children by leaving their husbands, and aunts who try to wrest a mother’s duties from her. Whereas we see such monsters everywhere in Munro’s many books, in this collection especially Munro suggests that mothers — in their particular intimate experience of the monstrosity of birth and how it introduces death into the world — cannot help embodying monstrosity, nor should they be condemned for trying to escape it.  Employing theories of the good-enough mother by psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, and Munro’s depiction of various functions of motherhood, including breastfeeding, this essay considers various monstrous maternal figures in The Love of a Good Woman and Munro’s emphasis therein on the inevitable space between being human and being animal that being a mother forces a woman to inhabit, along with the sometimes monstrous consequences of that role.