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It was being a watcher that did it. A watcher, not a keeper. (378)

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In Alice Munro’s short story “Miles City, Montana,” she assembles her story through a set of memory based narratives. The action of the story takes place over the course of time, moving back and forth between the memory of a boy’s death in her childhood, and the memory of a frightening experience as a mother, some twenty years later. The story develops the themes of parenthood and the relationship of trust and forgiveness between a parent and a child. The story develops these themes through the two memories set in different stages of the narrators lives.

The story begins  with with a story from her childhood, where a little boy had drown. In her recollection, the narrator proclaims that “I don’t think I really saw all of this–I must have heard someone talking about that and imagined what I saw.” (374) This statement is a clear signifier to the latter events in the story. She admits that she imagined what she saw, which addresses the idea that memory recollection is not completely factual. Stories based on memories are often altered by the way in which the person believes they saw something because of how they emotionally experienced it. This concept plays a big role in the development of the narrators shifting viewpoints throughout the story.

Another important theme that is also established in the story is the difference between a child’s intuitive perception of adult responsibility (parenting) and the guilt of the adult, through their involvement and choices. This theme is developed in the latter half of the story.

The narrator states that she is a “watcher.” This role she assigns herself is the narrators most important establishment of her character. The concept of watching is her way of trying to understand the nature of everything around her. She recalls in her story as a child that she “stood removed from them (her parents), in a row of children, watching. I felt furious and sickening disgust.” (376) In her younger age she could not understand why she exactly had a feeling of disgust towards her parents. However, she comes to explain later , that when she became a parent she finally understood why she was. She developed this understanding because she now understood what it is like to be on the other side of the child-parent spectrum. The second story is based on a traumatizing experience as a parent. She reveals how she was reintroduced to these unsettling feelings that she had, when she was at that little boys funeral when she was little. When her youngest daughter comes close to drowning while she was eating her lunch, she came to understand the worst fears of being a parent. The thought of loosing her child because she stopped watching her for only a moment, brings her to the understanding of why she was so disgusted by her parents. She watched them at the funeral, that feeling of disgust was her naive childish instinct of putting the blame on adults, because they were responsible for bringing children into existence and for watching them.

After experiencing her own child’s near death experience, she came to a new understanding from actually being a parent. The narrator has grabbled with the fact that a parents responsibility is to ensure the well being of their child. A parent, although they may try, cannot always be in full attention of  their child, which can sometimes lead to accidents that they cannot control. Through the narrators own daughter almost drowning within that short moment where she stopped being a “watcher,” her daughter almost died. This new understanding of the narrators changed perspective wraps the story all together. In the moment where the narrator makes a natural mistake and her daughter almost dies, that is where Munro subtly slips in the themes of guilt, forgiveness and trust. The narrator feels guilty for not being there to protect her daughter and she feels guilty for letting her daughter have such a scary experience in her life. The narrator’s final remarks are stating that “we went on, with the two in the back seat trusting us, because of no choice, and we ourselves trusting to be forgiven, in time, for everything that has first to be seen and condemned by those children: whatever was flippant, arbitrary, careless, callous, all our natural, and particular mistakes.” (394) The narrator wraps up all of the underlying themes of the story, and touches on the fact that adults make mistakes, and with time and aging, the children will come to understand these mistakes, and forgive them.

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