“The Ticket”
by Alice Munro
from The View from Castle Rock

“The Ticket” is the fourth story in Part Two of The View from Castle Rock. It is one in the group of stories that Munro mentions in her Foreword as having been held back, maybe because they were “even closer to [her] own life” than any of the others.

I was doing something closer to what a memoir does –exploring a life, my own life, but not in an austere or factual way. I put myself in the center and wrote about that self, as searchingly as I could.

The phrase that I notice here is “as searchingly as I could.”

“The Ticket” is about the months before her marriage to “Michael,” a young man who is handsome and tall and strong and willing to take her on and provide for her. The reader, however, cannot help but notice that the narrator mentions three times that Michael sees himself as the man who will “rescue” her from the poverty of her upbringing. We learn that he sees no need for her to be back home and helping out while she waits to join him. What’s unspoken here is the sense that Michael not only found things at her house to be shabby and disorganized, but that there was some kind of laziness that had led to the state things were in. Thus, she had no need to help out, at this late date, for her father’s, or her mother’s, failings. After all, her mother’s illness was unfamiliar to most people, even most doctors, at her age and at that time. It was as if, perhaps, the illness was yet one more self-dramatization her mother had put on.

So. Michael had not very much use for her re-immersing herself in the family drama. He was, after all, her rescuer. Munro’s self, however, spends these months before her marriage immersed in memory and family. We hear how Michael is busy that summer out in Vancouver painting the kitchen yellow, but that he is “irritated” to hear anything about the help his bride-to-be is giving her family in these her last months with them.

As for Michael, however, Michael wants no reminder of her family out east. When the carefully shipped presents from her family arrived in Vancouver, her husband clearly conveys that none of them are good enough to be displayed anywhere in the new house.

The handmade quilts, for instance. Or the pressed glass goblets. Or the willow platter. Or the afghans.

The reader is worried. And the reader is not the only one.

The girl has been stopping in to see her grandmother and her Aunt Charly. For one, Aunt Charly is making her wedding dress. For another, there are stories to be told and stories to hear. There is some steadiness in the company of the old ladies that is perhaps lacking at home, where the girl’s mother is confined by illness and the house is in continual need of housework.

Aunt Charly gives the girl the most important wedding gift of all: money that would get the girl back home “if she changes her mind.”

The reader already knows how important the prescient aunt is, whether the money is ever used to get away from Michael or not. The reader knows that the girl knows she has Aunt Charly’s permission to do just that. Run away.

I found this story deeply moving. There is an emphasis on the difficulty with jumping class. If you’ve done it — you know. It’s difficult, and often done with strings attached, such as Michael being convinced he is rescuing his bride from ever having to deal with her family again. It is as if he is unable to see that family is family and family is life. But there is a power imbalance in this marriage as well, one that ensures the fact she will hardly ever see her family again.

What makes the story so beautiful are the stories that are told as the women ready the wedding dress and pack the trunk. Marriages are explored, at least four of them, and one wildly felt but unconsummated, life-long affair is remembered in regret.

One marriage was a “house of silence.” Another, the marriage of the couple trapped by financial ruin and profound illness, had a “sense of obligation and demand that grew monstrously.” Another was a series of marriages that one man made to three women and the real marriage he made out of a life-long loyal and unconsummated love. Another marriage was Aunt Charly’s — the one where the two “were truly fond of each other.” 

The reader worries. Especially because our girl finally admits:

He deserved better than me, Michael did. He deserved a whole heart.

This admission is something Munro means the reader to notice, given that she places it at the end of a section near the end of the story. She has also prepared us to notice that the narrator may be as responsible as her husband for what we know is the almost inevitable failure of their marriage.

For one thing, the girl is very, very young, almost too young to know what it will mean to have given up not only her family, but also her identity as a member of that family. We see how both hurt in the story’s opening sentence:

Sometimes I dream about my grandmother and her sister . . . . I am shocked to find that they are still alive and I am amazed, ashamed, to think that I have not visited them, have not gone near them in all this time.

The narrator claims that it is a dream, but actually, it is more of a nightmare, given her feelings of shock and shame at having forgotten her grandmother and great aunt, and the rest of her family as well, we might as well conclude.

For another thing, regarding whether the young girl is as responsible for the eventual failure of the marriage, there is the problem of her irritation at her husband-to-be over the rescue mission he has made her out to be. This is the honeymoon period of love, when much is overcome by being in love. Frankly, she does not seem to be in love. Think, for example, how much she does not miss her fiancée or wish that she had gone out to Vancouver with him when he went.

And think of how she describes the wedding that she planned: that she had chosen “the dead of winter,” the same as her grandmother, whose marriage was a wintry place of silences and irritations.

This reader, me, was swept up in how supercilious Michael appeared to be. I was nearly taken in by the argument that he was at fault. But I had to notice how her father was not very encouraging about the match, and how her Aunt Charly was not encouraging either.

And I remember. I remember the admission that she had not given Michael her whole heart. What she had done is accept his rescue and then chafe at its bondage.

And there are hints of something else. In the prolonged story of her grandmother’s life-long affair of the mind with the lover she did not marry, and in the fact that the girl was not bringing Michael a “whole heart.” Was this a marriage of convenience? Was Michael’s vision actually true? That he was in fact rescuing her? We know (from other sources) that Munro’s scholarship had run out. Her two years at university were up. In addition, however, did we hear the grandmother’s story just because, perhaps, part of the girl’s heart lay with another man?

Finally, the answer may lie in the title Munro has chosen: “The Ticket”.

When sweet, long happily married widow Charly offers the girl the four fifty dollar bills, she says:

It [the marriage] might not be just the right ticket for you.

The reader thinks: money for the train ticket back home. 

But wait. Consider how much money that really was. The internet suggests that $200 in 1950 would be equivalent to $2,000 in 2020. Enough, perhaps, to go back to school? Enough to get a start? The way the girl in “Passion” used a sudden windfall to escape her past?

The narrator puzzles over why Aunt Charly uses the word “ticket” in this sentence. She wonders whether Aunt Charly was trying to be what we might call hip.

The reader wonders something else entirely. The reader wonders whether Aunt Charly has guessed that Michael is to be the girl’s meal ticket.

Aunt Charly knows a good marriage. She has probably met Michael and not seen the sparkle she wants to see in her niece’s eye. She knows the prize-winning girl is faced with coming home without a diploma. She most likely knows this marriage is most likely a matter of necessity.

Home, after all, is where the girl has never had a boyfriend.

It wasn’t a matter of looks. Something else. Something else, as clear as a warning bell, scattered the possible boyfriends and potential husbands out of my path.

Was it her brains? Was it her mother? 

The girl refuses the money. She leaves it under the sewing machine. 

I couldn’t let a soul see into me, let alone a person as simple as Aunt Charly.

Aunt Charly is not done, however. She insists on seeing further into the girl. 

Aunt Charly says, the money refused, the suggestion refused:

Then you must be – you must promise – you must be a good wife.

Seeing into the girl, the old aunt suggests that she knows this marriage is a bargain, and not a good one. The reader knows this too, given that early in the story, the girl, now grown, has told us about the first time she and Michael had sex. No swoon, no delight, no transport, no wildness. No — it was like “a ceremony.” 

I don’t like the accidental confluence of the word ceremony with the word money.

Note that the word money derives from the name of the Roman goddess of love and marriage. Juno’s name was also Moneta = the root of our word money. The Temple of Juno was where coins were, for four hundred years, minted.

In addition, in her account of their having sex on the bumpy ground down by the river, there is an irony that I cannot parse – an achievement peculiar to Munro’s singular powers of understatement.

She says: “. . . we believed that this was as serious as a marriage ceremony, because we could not possibly, now, do the same thing with anybody else.”

The reader knows, here, early in the story, that this will not be the case. Just exactly how we know this I am not sure. I think it is because there is no terrible yearning, no wild ecstasy, no tender affection, and in particular, none of what Munro treasures about sex, none of the sense of being “known.” Just a sense of commitment, as in a contract being signed.

Let’s forgive this girl, though. She is only nineteen. And forgive the boy, too, who is hardly much older. And we know nothing of what may have driven him to “marry down,” what may have driven him to want to daily be the hero who has rescued this poor girl. And feel for them, these two who have decided to marry “in the dead of winter.”

Liked it? Take a second to support The Mookse and the Gripes on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!