Night Alice Munro Analysis

Summary and Analysisof Night by Alice Munro

Alice Munro’s short story, “Night”, was published as a part of her 2012 collection Dear Life. Written in first-person narrative, the story narrates the experiences of a young girl who has recently been operated upon for appendicitis.

Alice Munro is a Canadian short-story writer and Nobel laureate and is one of the most significant figures of the short-story genre in contemporary times.

Night | Summary

The story begins with the narrator thinking about how every time a person would experience some “drastic physical event” like childbirth or appendicitis, it would be during an ongoing snow storm which would make getting medical help extremely difficult and time-consuming. This was the case when the narrator had appendicitis, and had to be driven to the hospital in a horse-drawn carriage., borrowing their neighbour’s horse as her family didn’t have one. The surgery was performed and the appendix was removed, and she spent a few days in the hospital. She assumes that her father pays for the treatment by selling the woodlot that he inherited, which he had kept for trapping, sugaring, or nostalgic purposes. At school, the narrator enjoys the exemption from physical exercise and is informed by her mother that along with the appendix, the doctor had also removed a growth inside of her body, the size of a turkey egg. She does not wonder whether the growth was cancerous or benign, as cancer was the mention of cancer was usually avoided if possible. She assumes that it was benign as she has lived long enough and has not yet faced any consequences. In June, her school ends and she has high enough marks to not have to sit for her final examinations.

The room in which the narrator and her younger sister, Catherine slept was small and had two bunk beds with a ladder to climb to the upper. The narrator occupied the upper and would spit on his sister from above by lifting up her mattress, in a childish game. Her sister would hide under her blankets, and be enraged if the narrator was successful in spitting at her. The relationship between her and her sister had always been ‘unsettled, the older often acting like the younger’s storyteller or counsellor, although their lives weren’t completely entwined.

That summer, having just recovered from surgery and having a housemaid for the first time, the narrator is free from both school and household chores, whiling her time away. That is how she first started having trouble sleeping, not having enough physical activity to tire her out during the day. Her family also let her have the privilege of deciding when to go to sleep, and she would read late into the night. Initially, she enjoys the freedom but as more time passes, she is restless and unable to fall asleep till dawn, which disturbs her. She would randomly recite poems and rhymes, first to tire herself out and then from being unable to stop herself, as if being possessed by an absurd madness. She was hardly herself anymore. She keeps fighting the random urges that she gets to do meaningless or dangerous things for no other reason but merely to see if they are possible. The more she tries to repress this urge, the more it comes back, fuelled not by any motive other than pure unconscious desire. The particular thought that affects her the most is the thought of strangling her sister in her sleep, who she loved “more than anybody in the world.” The thought is not motivated by any negative emotion like jealousy or anger but comes from a madness that is almost teasing in nature. Thus, she decides to get up from her bed and go outside the house for the rest of the night, as far from her sister as possible.

There were no streetlights. Everything appeared larger and darker at the night. She walks around for the rest of the night and as soon as the light of dawn appears, she is overwhelmed by sleep and goes back to the house and falls asleep. This absurd pattern continues for several nights until one night, she finds someone around the corner. It turns out to be her father, fully dressed in morning clothes as if getting ready for work. He wishes her good morning, which is unusual in her family as it does not commonly use formal greetings. He asks him if she is having trouble sleeping, and she admits that she is. He knows that his father is a light sleeper and must have heard her getting up from bed and going out every night, not just this one. He tells her that such troubles are quite common in summer when you are too tired but still cannot manage to find sleep. She confesses her night- urges of killing her sister. Surprisingly, her father reacts very calmly and reassures her that such random violent urges are common, and there is nothing to worry about.

Although such thoughts can be disturbing, their occurrence in the mind has a negligible chance of being translated into reality. He takes it for granted that such a thing would never happen in reality, and tells his daughter that these thoughts are an effect of the anaesthetic chemical used on her during her surgery, Ether. He makes no further attempt of any kind of enquiry into his daughter’s mind. Although the modern response would be to take the child to see a psychiatrist (which the narrator herself would have done), her father’s approach works for her very well. Unwanted, evil or shameful thoughts occur to everyone and are a part of life. They barely ever get translated into reality, although it is theoretically and physically possible.

The narrator comments that in those days, corporal punishments to discipline children and to curb “smartness” was common, and his father might have used them on occasion. Despite such violent ways however, he has an instinctive understanding of human psychology that often evades people who are educated in this subject, realizing that the unconscious mind, which is active at night through dreams, is the source of such random urges that almost never have any basis in reality. Her father’s words finally help the narrator sleep.

Night | Analysis

The story, although fictional, has an autobiographical structure and style that is the signature of Munro’s writings. It explores one aspect of the human unconscious that is usually active at night while sleeping, expressing itself through dreams. Since the narrator develops temporary insomnia, these expressions remain suppressed, until they break free and manifest as meaningless, unmotivated, but violent urges. These, however, are usually not a cause of worry and do not represent the nature or desires of a person. They never become reality, which the narrator’s father knows, and reassures her accordingly. He is calm and composed during her confession of her violent desire of murdering her sister, and retains faith in his daughter’s rationality and sanity, displaying good parenting. He refrains from alarming his already disturbed daughter through further questions, displaying admirable self-restraint and understanding of human nature. Unsurprisingly thus, he is able to calm her daughter back to sleep.

The story also provides glimpses of a beautiful, healthy relationship that is shared by the narrator and her sister. It is playful and loving, with the narrator performing the role of an elder sister admirably through storytelling and providing her with the occasional counsel. The most significant aspect of this relationship appears to be the lack of co-dependency – despite being close, the sisters have different friend circles and lives outside of each other, portraying a healthy sibling dynamic. The complete absence of the mother is, however, conspicuous in the story.

Night | Theme

The Unconscious/Night – The story is about the workings of the unconscious mind at night, which may appear as dreams or random, meaningless urges in the narrator’s case as she is suffering from insomnia. The night is a symbol of the unconscious itself, with its darkness and the fear of the unknown.

Family – Family is a central part of this story, with the narrator’s relationship with her father and sister both displaying instances of a healthy, familial bond that is exemplary.


Night | Significance of the Title

The title, “Night” is a reference to the narrator’s night-time activities resulting from her sleeplessness, and also acts as a symbol of the unconscious mind that usually only expresses itself in the night through dreams. In this case, the narrator’s insomnia leads to the development of meaningless violent urges such as the urge to kill her sister, a manifestation of the repressed unconscious that happens only at night. Much like the unconscious, the night is also full of unknown darkness, which is what makes both of these fearsome.





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