“Gravel”
by Alice Munro 
from the June 27, 2011 issue of The New Yorker

It’s always a good way to start the week: a new story by Alice Munro, who obviously hasn’t slowed down much. This one may be one of my favorites of the recently published (and I have a lot of her back catalog to go through). “Gravel” is a masterful piece that showcases simple style and complex structure so nicely done it looks simple too.

Our narrator is an older woman looking back on something terrible that happened when she was only five years old, something she feels guilty about even though she can’t really remember that much (“I barely remember that life. That is, I remember some parts of it clearly, but without the links you need to form a proper picture.”). When she was five and her older sister Caro was nine, her mother became pregnant, allegedly by one of the actors who moved into town with the new professional summer theater.

My mother and father had been among those in favor, my mother more actively so, because she had more time. My father was an insurance agent and travelled a lot. My mother had got busy with various fund-raising schemes for the theatre and donated her services as an usher. She was good-looking and young enough to be mistaken for an actress. She’d begun to dress like an actress, too, in shawls and long skirts and dangling necklaces. She’d left her hair wild and stopped wearing makeup. Of course, I had not understood or even particularly noticed these changes at the time. My mother was my mother. But no doubt Caro had. And my father. Though, from all that I know of his nature and his feelings for my mother, I think he may have been proud to see how good she looked in these liberating styles and how well she fit in with the theatre people.

After she becomes pregnant, she moves herself and the two girls into a small home by a gravel pit.

My mother was the one who insisted on calling attention to it. “We live by the old gravel pit out the service-station road,” she’d tell people, and laugh, because she was so happy to have shed everything connected with the house, the street — the husband — with the life she’d had before.

Through much of the story, the narrator’s five-year-old self has no real idea what is going on. When she visits her father and her mother asks if she had a good time, she simple says yes, “because I thought that if you went to a movie or to look at Lake Huron or ate in a restaurant, that meant that you had had a good time.” At nine, Caro is much more bothered by the whole situation (indirectly, this story is her story rather than the narrator’s); she said yes, too, “but in a tone of voice that suggested that it was none of our mother’s business.”

The story develops wonderfully. Through small details, we get to know these people very well, even if our narrator is someone who is only piecing together poorly remembered moments. Amazingly, it accomplishes this though the story is very short, and nearly half of it dwells on one particular moment.

In the way “Gravel” deals with memory and guilt, and the way it is structured to do so (and not to simply tell a story from start to finish) reminded me a great deal of William Maxwell’s masterpiece, So Long, See You Tomorrow (see my review here). Incidentally, I think such a connection is purposeful. After Maxwell died in 2000, Alice Munro said of So Long, See You Tomorrow, “I thought: so this is how it should be done. I thought: If only I could go back and write again every single thing that I have written.” Certainly she has accomlished something similar but about a very different tragedy than the one Maxwell recounts. I loved it.

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By | 2017-06-02T17:04:31+00:00 June 20th, 2011|Categories: Alice Munro, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |35 Comments

35 Comments

  1. KevinfromCanada June 20, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    First, an apology — while I have been lurking on the New Yorker short story discussions here, I have not been commenting. I don’t get my paper copy until at least 10 days after the post here. I find the New Yorker a frustrating on-line read when it comes to fiction and, by the time I have read the hard copy, I don’t have much to add to what is already here.

    Alice Munro is different, since she is Canadian and someone whom I have been following for decades. So I fought my way through the online version (is the New Yorker ever reader-unfriendly when it comes to e-versions) and will jump ahead of the crowd here.

    In many ways, this story is typical Munro — it is set in her territory between Stratford and Lake Huron in southwestern Ontario. It also has Munro “tragedy” — a look back at a traumatic event in the past and how it has played out into the present.

    It has some traditional Munro tensions, most noticeably between the parents, but also the lovers, and, perhaps most importantly, the children. And finally (at least for my observations), the defining event of the story has obscure motivations which the reader is left to contemplate.

    While I think the story works — why did Caro jump? why did it create such a lasting imression on a five-year-old? why can the parents successfully ignore it? — I don’t think it ranks with Munro’s best work. It is an interesting set of observations, and certainly a successful story, but it doesn’t leave you much to contemplate tomorrow, as so many of her stories do.

    Alice is aging and someone somewhere says every book, or story, is her last — and she keeps writing them. I would offer another interpretation, based on her most recent work. More and more, in the important background of her stories, we are seeing examples of the breakdown of a marriage, something that happened to Munro herself. I can’t help but wonder whether these final stories are exploring that aspect of her own life.

  2. Trevor June 20, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    I finished this one on the way home from work, Kevin, so I’ll get my thoughts up soon. A quick word: I thought it was excellent. Perhaps not up to Munro’s best, as you say, but since I have most of Munro’s work in front of me, that is good news :).

  3. KevinfromCanada June 20, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    Trevor: Munro is one of the few writers where an “excellent” short story could provoke the comment that it is not one of her best — and there is no contradiction in that opinion.

  4. Smithereens June 21, 2011 at 5:32 am

    Thanks for the link! So glad I can read the story for free this time. I’m a huge Munro fan.

  5. Betsy June 24, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Alice Munro’s “Gravel” is interleaved with ideas about memory and the stories people tell about themselves. The stories we hear, especially from our parents, shape the memories we think we have, so that memory is really a loose “gravel” of all these interwoven stories and events.

    Presumably, a family story can be somewhat cohesive, and often, even if it is not “true”, it creates a ground for an identity that works. The trouble comes, the tragedy, is when the stories are not complete or are not true, and this fragmented, incoherent and distorted truth gets re-ordered and cemented into a belief.

    We do this to ourselves, we create the cement around the particulate of incoherent experiences, things heard, and things seen. Sometimes this constructed sense of self works because it’s more true than not; sometimes it doesn’t work at all, because there’s so little truth in it. The tragedy is, though, the whole thing has set. Even when the truth bubbles up, we resist it. Our story of our life is as set the house that’s built, in the end, atop the filled in gravel pit.

    Toward the end of the story, Neal, who once played Banquo in a regional theater, reveals how he now prepares students for exams, and that he helps them write their essays. “Sometimes, you might say, he wrote their essays.” A man who once played Banquo’s ghost, Neal now ghost-writes student work, essays that are an illusion floating out there, big as life, as reality. Perhaps these are their college essays, the “story” of some important moment in their lives, stories that other people now believe and act upon.

    Ultimately, “Gravel” is a story about a woman who has a ghost written self, different parts written by her mother, her father and her parents’ lovers. In part the ghost writing is in their spoken word, but like ghosts, they also speak in silences.

    Upon first reading, Neal as ghost writer appears to be the completely unambitious failure you suspected him to be. But the idea is also planted – we sometimes have our ideas about ourselves “written” unwittingly by other people’s stories.

    “Gravel” revolves around a child who believes she has caused her sister’s death, and who builds her “truth” with threads she’s gleaned from her mother and father and their lovers. Because this mother and father have many silences and secrets, what the daughter makes out for her truth seems to be actually be a distortion, and what she hears about the truth reveals to us a tragedy – that she is someone whose life interests her parents not at all. So she lives with “demons”. The girl has managed to survive into adulthood without it ever occurring to her that her sister’s death is first and foremost her parent’s responsibility, not hers, so powerful are their silences and stories. After all, she was only five.

    (Munro also plays with the “stories” people tell their confessors. The narrator tells us she once went to a “professional person”, who must, in fact, create yet another story line. The narrator rejects the therapist’s take, and yet the reader wonders if the therapist’s take, if overly sex-determined, was nevertheless, headed in sort of the right direction. The narrator’s belief about herself is so powerful, that she could be “satisfied” with the therapist’s story line for only a while. While the therapist may have been technically wrong – that the trailer door was locked so the mother and lover could have sex, she may have been right that the mother is blinded by loneliness and desire. And the daughter is blinded for life by her idea that her mother has done no wrong. She accepts without comment that her father does not blame her mother for Caro’s death. She adopts this story line in the manner of a five year old – without elaboration.

    The narrator’s partner Ruthann senses that there is more to the truth than anyone has yet revealed, and although she occupies only three sentences in the text, we need to notice her. My dictionary tells me that “gravel-blind” is an intensifier for the archaic word “sand-blind” which was a corruption of “sam-blind” which was further a corruption of “semi-blind”. “Gravel” is such an odd title, and Alice Munro so particular, and the main character so blind to her own history that these connections of gravel and gravel blind make sense to me, especially since Munro so pointedly reminds us that this is a tragedy we are reading. Of course, gravel reminds me of grovel and drivel, part of the tragedy being that the narrator’s story is made up of her groveling to other people’s drivel. At any rate we should not dismiss Ruthann. She sees that there is more to the truth. But it is important that we notice how peripheral to our stories that we make anyone who “sees”.

    Another way in which Munro circles around the idea of truth and half-truth and re-constructed reality is in the idea of twins. The mother thinks she is having twins, she has twin husbands, twinnish daughters, an actor lover who has a twin reality in his roles and in his lies. The domestic dog, Blitzee, has her wild twin wolf. In fact, all of the characters have a wild side for a twin. Somehow, we tell stories that make sense of these two sides of our nature.

    Of course, Munro is saying that it is in the nature of being human to make up these stories, believe them, and be unable to see when our stories are misleading us.

    There is so much I would say about these parents. What parent purposely chooses to live next to an unenclosed gravel pit? “Make Way for Ducklings” happened to be my reading at the same time as I was reading “Gravel”, and I noticed that Mrs. Duck instructs her husband that they cannot bring their children up just anywhere. There are to be no foxes. Tragically, the mother in “Gravel” only notices the “”wolf” at the mailbox long after she has made her fatal decisions, and even then, she does not really see how this ghost-wolf is silently speaking to her. (The wolf seems to be another story a character creates, dream-like, in order to make sense of her life; by the time the mother “sees” the wolf, she must have begun to sense the danger she was in, but seems unwilling to see it for what it really is. We see it; Neal, her lover, has given nine year old Caro some weed to smoke, and the younger sister “tells”. The story we are left to tell is what would provoke him to do this? That she is annoying him?)

    The mother may have had very good reason for leaving her husband, but she made several fatal (semi-blind) decisions that led to her daughter’s death: to live with this particular irresponsible man, to have her daughters’ lives be so constricted that television is their main companion and play diet, to live beside a gravel pit, to allow the girls to play near it, unsupervised and out of sight, even when the pit is swollen with the spring snow melt. It is as if she wills herself permission to neither see Neal as he is, a danger to her daughters, or to see the gravel pit as it is – a danger to them all.

    And finally, after Caro’s death, the mother does not talk about her responsibility.

    Later, much later, the gravel pit is filled in and new houses spring up. It mirrors the mother’s belief that she can cover up the truth and still survive, regardless of the damage she will do her surviving daughter, who believes she has killed her sister.

    No one seems to have ever said to the girl: you were only five. No one seems to have ever asked her how she was feeling, how she was doing…

    As for the father – the girls see almost nothing of him for nine months, and later, the surviving daughter recalls him saying that good has come of “the shake-up”. He has a new marriage that is happy. He seems blind to his daughter’s demons.

    Well – I loved this story. I was totally caught up in the story part, and also caught up in all the echoes and reverberations of the art. (Who among us has not a story of irresponsibility or guilt? Who among us does not make up the story of our life as we go?) I thought all the art worked: every sentence, every image, every bit of dialogue, every evidence of the daughter’s blindered point of view, every omission, every appeal to tragedy.

    There is so much more to say about this story. How, for instance, does Munro made these people so real? Given that Munro makes every sentence pay, each paragraph is a starting place.

    And Neal’s remark – “Accept everything and then the tragedy disappears.” That is a whole other discussion – a wild twin to mine, that the parents are guilty of abandoning both their daughters.

    Most important, the five year old should actually share some of the guilt, in five year old terms. But she, too, evidently has her silences. If this is true, it should weigh on the reader and on her parents. I wonder what Carol Gilligan would have to say about this.

    I would feel bad about thinking so hard about this story – except for what you pointed out, Trevor, about Munro, that perhaps she reads the same way. That after she read William Maxwell’s “So Long, See You Tomorrow”, she wanted to rewrite everything she had written.

  6. Jon June 24, 2011 at 11:56 am

    Oh, God. I am afraid to read this story. Thank you for warning me, Besty.

  7. Trevor June 24, 2011 at 12:14 pm

    Jon, you won’t regret reading it. It’s one of the best they’ve published for some time.

    Betsy, I’ve been anxious for your thoughts, and I agree that, even though you do a thorough job going down one trail, Munro shows us many more we could take for a different yet just as interesting and engaging discussion.

  8. Betsy June 24, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Jon! If you ever read any of my remarks – I’m assuming you’ve already read the story! So sorry to have given it away. I’d better put up an alert.

    I struggle over the fact that writing about a story tries to “pin it to the board”. I hate to think that anyone would read what I have to say before reading the story. On the one hand, you have the author’s gorgeous living creature, and on the other, you have the essayist’s clunky awkward wooden dummy! But thinking and writing about the story prolongs the pleasure of reading it. Somehow, thinking about art frees life up from its clutter. But don’t read me first!

  9. Kevin J MacLellan June 26, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Trevor,
    This is an interesting story, told with an unsettling flatness of tone that betrays the narrator’s state of mind. She is obviously tortured by the mysterious tragedy and her own part in it: this comes through complete with chills and a desperate sadness.
    Perhaps it’s only proximity in time, but having just finished Port Mungo, by Patrick McGrath, I have the feeling that this story – like McGrath’s – must be seen, primarily, as a castigation of a generation and the facile theories of liberation and self-fulfillment that were current in the 70’s. Both the novel and the story each detail the fatal result of neglect and/or abuse of children at the hands of feckless, foolish, ultimately selfish parents. It is a rebuke to the “Let it be” philosophy of that (MY) generation.
    With due respect to Betsy’s excellent analysis, I can’t quite agree that Munroe’s focus is on memory, or the stories we tell ourselves, though this has to be a part of it. This poor narrator is damaged (like her sister) psychologically, emotionally–by a neglect that is/should be criminal. Her quandary is not epistemic: she knows her sister is dead and will remain dead; just as her parents will remain guilty. The problem is: how can she face it? How make sense of it?
    The adults in this story do not bequeath to her any coherent sense of responsibility; indeed, quite the opposite. No surprise, then, if the child grows to adulthood without a clear sense of her own place in this tragedy. What Munroe does exceedingly well here is present the mind of such a victim. Her main question to Neal (as to the therapist) is: ‘What was Cora thinking? Why did she do it? It is not ‘What happened?’, but “Why?”
    I wonder if modern writers aren’t simply reflecting the sense that we live in a time of crisis and peril; a peril which has been brought on by someone close to home and inflicted on the innocents. The characters in the story are spokesmen for the various ‘themes’ of the 70’s generation: e.g.the mother’s bid for ‘naked’ freedom, the father’s self-deprecating acquiescence (A major psychoanalytical talking point back then! Health and happiness by way of resignation.) and, of course, Niel’s “principles”.
    I think Munroe makes this point clear to us, if not to Cora’s damaged sister: Cora did only what her elders had done: viz.
    “running at the water and throwing [themselves], as if in triumph, and I’m still caught, waiting for her to explain to me, waiting for the splash.”
    It is a powerful indictment, all the more so as it is so utterly believable and chillingly told.
    An excellent story; thanks for the tip.

  10. Betsy June 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Kevin, nice the way you link the nameless narrator’s “unsettling” flat tone with how Munro conveys the adult woman’s inability to understand her own childish part in Caro’s death. I found this story so difficult to negotiate; your points are very helpful.

  11. Kevin J MacLellan June 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks Betsy,
    I’ve been thinking alot about the title, too and what to make of it: It occurs to me that it is not a bad metaphor for what is left of the narrator’s psyche after the tumult. Gravel is, after all, disjointed pieces of once solid rock riven by violence and scattered. The putatively, once solid family structure is rendered in pieces. It occurs to me that she bears witness to, at least testifies to, NO surviving relationships from that time. Her own family members are just names and categories to her (Mother, Father, Step-mom, therapist, etc.)
    It is telling, I think, that it is Ruthann, her partner, who encourages some sort of reaching out.(Too bad Ruthann can’t have known how useless and callow a guy Niel was/is. She might have said, “Nevermind!”
    Thanks, I’ve enjoyed this conversation. If you like the story, check out McGrath’s “Port Mungo”.

  12. jerry June 27, 2011 at 10:45 am

    Not much to say…Munro is the master, the chief reason i resubscribed to TNY is to read her stories. She knows how to tell a story, a basic thing one would think, but one which many writers appear to have forgotten.

    At first I didn’t think the story was up to her usual standards but the more I have thought over it, I think my initial impression was wrong. The story stays with you.

  13. Betsy June 27, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Another thought about the title: gravel is used as fill and then buried, just like all the secrets in this story. What I like about Munro is that the writing supports a variety of reactions and is all the richer for it.

    There is with gravel also the association of time, being that gravel is formed over eons by glaciation. There is for sure a glaciation going on in this family.

    One other thing: the parents may well be implicitly letting the little girl assume the blame and the guilt, as it lets them off the hook. (There is the associated idea of the generalized blame that children sometimes bear in any divorce – seeing as sometimes the children are a source of friction between parents.)

  14. Ken July 15, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    I agree, this is a very good story and Munro is without doubt a master at structuring highly complex, symbolically charged stories in a manner which feels effortless. The first paragraphs alone not only tell about a family’s various members and their situation/actions and their inner dynamics but brings up metaphors of the pit (which I think could also represent the unconscious and all that gets buried under the “water” of our conscious minds) and of hunter/prey. A general comment to all the prior readers: just as with Kate Walbert’s story M&M World, many seem to want to find pathology and bad parenting every place they possibly can and act as if any quirky or distracted or imperfect behavior is somehow pathological rather than just living life as it is. Callow as Neal is, I ended up agreeing with his view of things. Yes, people err, sometimes tragedy happens, and yes we need to understand the past but we also need to move on and also understand that very few parents are perfect. The tone I got from readers discussing this story and Walbert’s was of rather judgmental child psychologists ready to go on Oprah and tell everyone how one SHOULD raise children.

  15. Ken July 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Let me follow up. I also had a quibble about this story being an indictment of a generation. Perhaps some parents were overly permissive in “the sixties” but the time also brought civil rights to ethnic minorities, women, gays, led to a questioning of the automatic rightness of authority, helped stop U.S. military adventurism (for a while), helped create the environmental movement, led to an acceptance of alternative lifestyles etc. The comment reminds me of a book by one Richard Nixon written in the late 1970’s bemoaning how America had been emasculated by the 1960’s policies. Interestingly enough, the seemingly neglectful allowing a family to live near an open gravel pit is actually the kind of old-style parenting in which kids were allowed to run around in the streets, throw rocks etc. It’s before the newer, more worried helicopter parenting of today although whether it’s pre “sixties” (less nurturing and more laissez faire) or post “sixties” (allowing freedom) is an open question.

  16. Aaron July 23, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Man, I’ve fallen behind. Finally decided (in this oppressive heat, of all things) to remotivate myself to continue reading through all the fiction on my plate, and “Gravel” was the first story I posted about. (http://bit.ly/qcoxn5)

    What a terrific first story to jump back into things with. Having not been a product of the culture that Munro is in some ways critiquing, I found Neal to be the weak point of this story, though Munro’s a deft enough writer that some of his observations and odd tics are still memorable and effective.

    I don’t want to jump over anything already brought up in the excellent discussion, but I’ll add that the opening paragraph has so many levels to it (much like the “Axis” of Munro’s previous piece in the New Yorker). Consider how their life is *like* the gravel pit they were living beside at that time — is it a major tragedy that occurs, or a minor one? And what is going on with all of these failed intentions — the mother, taking up books again (as an aside!), the sister “calling for attention,” the narrator looking for closure — meanwhile, the pit, the inverse of the home, the inverse of attention-grabbing, the inverse of closure . . . foreshadowing everything, this is a gripping shallowness, a warning against anything less than the strongest foundations (and look how our narrator flounders, her memories inadequately anchored, her structure falling into a black *hole*).

    But I gush and rant. This was great.

  17. jeff January 11, 2015 at 12:58 am

    Might I point out, that all of these assume the narrator is a girl. The only hint of gender is at the funeral when the future stepmother takes the narrator to a doll house, and when the narrator makes reference to the “partner” RuthAnn. There is nothing else that indicates the gender of the narrator. I found that interestingly undefined.

  18. Jordan and Taylor October 27, 2017 at 12:10 pm

    Kevin, I don’t think Cora meant to kill herself, but instead wanted to make her mom realize how dangerous and difficult their new lives were. Cora was most likely looking for attention, and didn’t like the life she was living. She might have thrown the dog in and dove in after her to attempt to avoid her difficult life. If she had been saved, she would have been able to make the excuse of saving the dog. The narrator was supposed to go get help so Cara wouldn’t die, but she froze. If her mother had realized the true danger of the place they were living, and was able to save her daughter. They were experiencing a feeling of abandonment because their Mother wasn’t giving them the right attention, and became desperate enough to accidentally kill Cora. I wonder if the narrator had gone to get help, if Cora wouldn’t have died, and have gotten what she wanted?

  19. Shauvabelle October 27, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    Betsy, you make some subtle points, and as high school seniors, we find your comments to be informative about the hidden messages throughout ‘Gravel’. Sometimes children feel that a divorce was caused by fault- We can relate to this because a similar situation has happened to one of our group’s members. However, most of the time, it is not anybody’s fault- the divorce can stem from a lot of influences that can even be external to the family. In the story ‘Gravel,’ the mother was interested in having “excitement” with Neal, rather than forming a better relationship with her children after a divorce. An overeaching theme in Alice Monroe’s stories is people wanting something that they cannot have, and the mother definitely wants (and attempts) to get everything that she does not have. We personally do not think that the mother pays attention to her children to the extent that she should, and even though she told Caro not to go into the gravel pit, she did not pay attention to her actions (this also shows how little the mother cared about her girls). Even though Caro blamed with her sister there, the blame should not be on the child (even though it is not saids, it is implied to an extent). The mother should have accepted that she may have been having too much fun with Neal, when she should have been focusing on what should be her prized possessions- the girls. Betsy, we love the point you made about the gravel pit at the end- Because there is a new development being built near the pit, it shows that the mother is literally able to cover up the area that her daughter supposedly drowned in. We feel that this is not mature of the mother. All of the immature acts she has done thus far proves that she should be somebody to blame- or not a woman with children.

  20. Vincent J October 27, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I love how the narration of the story is fragmented and sometimes “unreliable”. This ironically adds a great deal depth to the story and the message behind it. It allows the message to seep into the plot line rather than having to be told in verse directly from the narrator. The story seems to carry itself because of this literary device, and that is one of the remarkable qualities of Munro’s writing

  21. Shauvabelle October 27, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    After reading this article we question if the mother has the ability to raise her children the way they should be raised in the gravel pit?

  22. Dylan October 27, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    Just wanted to say, really love your takes on Munro. I’ve been pushing my 21st century literature students to check them out as supplemental reading for “Dear Life.”

  23. Vincent October 27, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    I wonder if Munro is writing this solely based off her own life and remembering from the past, or if she is more purposeful in letting her narration be somewhat fragmented and loose. I’m not sure if this has already been addressed, but I believe that is a combination of the two. Knowing the ability of Munro, I would believe that she would recognize the opportunity to make her story more unique and interesting to digest.

  24. Grickothy October 27, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    One question that has gone uncovered by the wide array of sparkingly intelligent and in-depth comments that you fellow internet goers have touched upon is this: “Why did Caro jump? What was the purpose of throwing in Bliztee first?” I think it’s incredibly surprising that a nine-year old would so willingly and purposely throw their life away. Yes, there were certainly many inter-family fissures, but still, nothing close to what I or most people would consider appropriate reasoning for taking one’s life, especially at such a young age. I’ve yet to meet a nine-year with a pessimistic outlook on the world, and yet Caro couldn’t any longer bear the weight of breathing on her shoulders. I was thoroughly shocked at the immediate and unwavering decision of Caro to end her life. The only explanation, I think, is that she had some sort of mental illness, one in which the reminiscing narrator failed to touch upon. This also would warrant the throwing in of Blitzee, as it provided a catalyst and a reason for Caro to make such a harsh and forever depressing decision without second thought.

  25. Trevor Berrett October 27, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    Welcome, all you who have found this page and have shared your comments. I’m assuming you’re all in a class together, but I’m grateful that, rather than simply discussing the story within those walls you have shared your thoughts with us as well. I hope you’ll all continue to feel a desire to engage in discussions about books and stories!

  26. Trevor Berrett October 27, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Just wanted to say, really love your takes on Munro. I’ve been pushing my 21st century literature students to check them out as supplemental reading for “Dear Life.”

    Thanks, Dylan. I wrote the above comment before really reading all of the posts (I’m at work and, beyond making sure they weren’t spam, didn’t have time to fully engage). I appreciate their comments, and they are all most welcome to come back at any time! Hopefully some of us who posted here years ago will be able to respond to some of the comments directly — I haven’t read “Gravel” for a few years. But your students should feel comfortable responding to each other as well. My best to you all!

  27. Jacky Jackie October 27, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    In the story “Gravel”, Munro presents her ideas through the narrator, the narrator is recalling a story in the past when she was five; this is a classic writing style of Munro. Including “Gravel” every other short story from Munro are all talking about the lovers and the marriages, she is trying to point out a problem in the society. In today’s life, some marriages do not come out perfectly, neither of the husband and the wife does not enjoy their marriage, however, they still pretend to be happy, and persist their marriage. The story of Munro could let those people acknowledge and confront their problem of marriage. My question is the narrator from the “Gravel” is a simply memory of her childhood or feeling regret about her childhood?

  28. Alyssa.C,Meiling,Erica October 30, 2017 at 9:13 am

    When it comes to the question whether or not Caro killed herself, we believe she had not intention of dying. Although she purposely jumped she did it for attention from her mother, who told her not to jump in. When it comes to Caro’s mother, she seemed to be more interested in her own life than her daughters’. Caro jumping in was her attempt at being noticed and understood by someone. Even the narrator was unable to understand her sister because she was too young to really know what was going on. We agree that Caro had a pessimistic outlook on life, but we disagree that Caro did not have a mental illness. We believe the mother had a mental illness instead. When Caro died, you would expect a mother to mourn and struggle to accept the fact that she has lost her daughter. We believe this is because Caro’s mother refuses to believe that her daughter’s death was her fault. All in all, we believe the mother was not fit to be raising children. Why would a mother not mourn her child’s death?

  29. Max, Dylan, & Kortney October 30, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Gravel is a story about guilt. Even after all these years the narrator still feels guilt about what had happened to her sister even though it was not her fault. Caro tried to frame the situation to get Neal kicked out. Caro was willing to risk her life to prove a point and get what she wants, whether that is getting her parents to feel guilty for what they are putting their children through or attempting to improve the narrator’s life inside of the family. Caro wanted to put guilt on her mother but ended up putting it on her sister who feels responsible for the whole situation. Why do people dwell on an event or blame themselves many years after the event has occurred?

  30. Ayana, Olivia, Jay October 30, 2017 at 9:22 am

    After reading this we question how the death or Cora effects the narrator. Would her life still be the same if Cora had not died?

  31. Jayviana October 30, 2017 at 9:34 am

    After reading this article we were able to connect a theme of this story to the others. In the other story we questioned if an individual’s happiness should be put above the cost of others. Greta cheated on her husband twice with other men. Similarly, the narrator’s mother becomes pregnant with Neal’s child. This imposes a moral question. We wonder if this reaccuring theme has something to do with the authors experience’s. Also how does the author feel about the actions of these women. Along with dealing with the level of happiness in the narrators life, they also have to endure the suffering of losing a loved one close to them, like when they lost their sister Caro to a drowning incident. A tragedy such as this can hold an effect of a person’s quality of overall happiness, and negatively impact their life.

  32. Matt and Tyler October 30, 2017 at 11:07 am

    We think that your take on the story is interesting, looking at it as truly a story being told instead of a lesson being taught. Of course, there are always messages to be gleaned from any texts, especially Alice Munro’s. Your mention of the story being told in “poorly pieced memories” might provide insight into the meaning behind the title. If you look at one individual pebble of gravel, it is seemingly insignificant, like each individual thought of the narrator. Once you look at all of the rocks together, they change from separate, indifferent pieces into a whole, heterogenous collective. With only a couple of memories, this story would be even more convoluted and confusing, but with all of the narrator’s memories, even though they are not perfect or complete, we are able to understand a whole story with subliminal messages to it. Your opinion on the story being of guilt is interesting, because it seems as though you are implying that the narrator would feel guilty for Caro’s actions. It proposes the question that if parents are occupied and unable to care properly for their children, justified or not, is it the children’s’ burden to look out for each other?

  33. Tim, Kayla, Jack October 30, 2017 at 11:10 am

    Accuracy when telling the story from the narrator’s perspective could be quite faulty. Because it is seen that the story is being told in poorly remembered, if not full forgotten memories. The theme behind the story itself however can be trusted. This is because although the narrator may not remember exactly what happened in the past, they know the underlying feeling they wanted to get across to the readers. Also the feelings narrator could’ve been displaying may have been displaced. Because it is her five year old self feeling these things they may have been exaggerated or misunderstood in some way. The question posed here is, whether or not children have the ability to perceive things correctly without their perception being distorted?

  34. Colin Ryan October 30, 2017 at 11:14 am

    Aaron,

    I think that your point about the gravel pit being the inverse of the home is one of the best comments I’ve read here. Such a fascinating contrast that Munro included here, where the home, though not much of a home, brings the narrator and her sister together, and the gravel pit tears them apart in the form of poor Caro’s untimely death. To have these two places right next to each other only adds to the intrigue raised by such a comparison. However, do you think that possibly the gravel pit, in Caro’s case, is actually the positive place here? She does not seem happy with the situation she faces at home, and so the gravel pit is almost an escape for her, and it is possible that she used the gravel pit as such, an escape from the misery of what is going on in her life. I know this is a rather morbid point, but just some food for thought!

    Directed at no one in particular, I would like to address the subject of that untimely death that occurs in the story, and the effect that it has on the narrator’s life. My question to everyone here, is do you think that Caro committed suicide? Sure, she may have been vying for her mother’s attention here, and being nine years old did not realize the danger of what she was doing. But keep in mind, this is a fictional story. It is not beyond the realm of possibility, given Caro’s apparent understanding of the situation she has been placed in by the actions of her mother, killed herself because of her sadness and stress, even only being nine years old. It is not possible to know for certain, but that is my take on it.

  35. Harvey October 30, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    There has been a bunch of discussion around the topic of “her” faulty memory surrounding the situation and how “she” responded to the death of her sister, but there was no direct mention of the narrator’s gender throughout “Gravel.” I don’t believe that it particularly matters whether the narrator was male or female, but if the narrator was male he could have felt particular guilt due to the role that men tend to need to play as a protector, but nevertheless the gender of a kindergarten aged child would not impact their lack of ability to save their older sister and family pet.

    I would also like to draw attention to a similar situation within “The Awakening” by Chopin when Edna Pontellier dives into the ocean as a statement to her triumphant freedom. Caro may have been simply looking toward the gravel pit as a way to experience freedom from her trapped existence.

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