At the beginning of the excerpt, Juliet has just learned ofPenelope’s whereabouts, after fifteen years of no communication between them.From the coincidental encounter with Heather, Juliet also discovers thatPenelope has been silently keeping track of her as well, as Heather says: “shesaid you were still living here” (Munro 109). This grand revelation sendsJuliet into a trance, in which she toils over the complex feelings that she hasassociated with Penelope since her departure.
From page 110 to the end of thestory, the constant shifts in Juliet’s outlook constitute her trajectory ofconsciousness, and gradually ease into a resolution when Juliet is finally ableto put her troubled mind at ease. Despite being granted the information that she has hungeredfor so long, Juliet responds to Heather’s news rather nonchalantly, and doesnot attempt to inquire more about Penelope. Her unusual reaction to theunexpected news gives emphasis to Juliet’s tendency to stay silent throughoutthe novel – a method which she employs to empower her inner processes. In spiteof Juliet’s reserved demeanor, her mind is filled with endless questionsregarding her daughter’s life. As a result, the majority of the passage conveysa bittersweet atmosphere, as Juliet battles between feelings of resentmenttowards Penelope and her overwhelming joy. Having no contact with Penelope foryears, Juliet feels a strong urge to pinpoint where her daughter is living toreassure that Penelope is safe: “That meant she must live in Whitehorse or inYellowknife” (110).
It is important to note that this piece of information doesnot benefit their relationship in any way, as the locations are too vague forJuliet to organize a visit. Thus, Juliet’s speculation likely stems from agenuine concern for her daughter’s well-being. However, as Juliet proceeds, thetone of her thoughts shifts from reassured to rather materialistic. She relieson the few details given by Heather to further speculate about Penelope’sliving conditions: “That meant a private school. That meant money”. Earlier inthe novel, Juliet admits to having wanted to “establish Eric as an educatedman” (50), and takes great pride in her scholastic achievements as well.
Herfocus on individual accomplishments seems to portray Juliet as astatus-conscious and critical woman, who uses the same measurement on herdaughter. Her judgmental side also takes notice of Heather’s commenton Penelope’s unkempt appearance: “Did that mean she had aged? That she was outof shape after five pregnancies, that she had not taken care of herself?”(110). To some extent, Juliet’s critical evaluations are evident of herinternalization of societal demands. Although she invariably rebels againstsociety’s imposed standards, Juliet also subconsciously yearns for itsacceptance at times. This notion brings to the foreground her experience in”Soon”: “And here she was, redeemed. Like any other young woman, pushing herbaby” (56).
Throughout Juliet’s life, women are placed under a strong pressureto conform; therefore, it is possible that Juliet also wants her daughter todisplay the traits of a conventional woman, just like others: “As Heather had.As Juliet had, to a certain extent” (110). The phrase in italics: “taken careof herself?” (110) also gives credence to the preceding claim. On one level, itcaptures our attention, creating a sense of disturbance on the page that isindicative of Juliet’s — and society’s — horrified reaction at Penelope’sself-neglect. On another level, italics in literature are often associated withmemories; thus, the phrase might be a reverberation of what Juliet has beentold during her childhood, which she unconsciously passes on to her daughter.Interestingly, this cycle of persecution resonates strongly with Munro’s ownexperience.
In her interview, she recalls aspiring to be a married woman as itwas “the only way you become successful”, even though she strives to break freefrom the constraints imposed by her community. Hence, her identity conflict isan important aspect about Juliet that Munro treasures about her. As Juliet ponders Heather’s update on Penelope, her pastspeculations about her daughter’s life resurface. There is a tonal shift fromcaptious to amused as she notices the sharp contrast between her version of Penelopeand reality. “Not at all” (111) – the revelation hits Juliet as she realizeshow Penelope’s unexpected prosperous lifestyle shows how little she actuallyunderstands about her daughter now.
The sense of estrangement that encompassesJuliet’s life once again reemerges, which adds nuance to the superficialamusement of the moment. As Juliet has always done when she encounters a loss,Juliet decides to laugh it off: “If she ever met Penelope again they mightlaugh about how wrong Juliet had been.” (111).
As a matter of fact, Juliet’sinappropriate response to dismal situations is a recurring theme throughout thetrilogy. For instance, Juliet jokes about “throwing herself into the flames”(97) at Eric’s cremation, much to the horror of others. Thus, laughter can beinterpreted as Juliet’s means of self-medication, as it allows her to beemotionally detached from the traumatic events. Since there is no way tocontact Penelope, Juliet relies on laughter to shield herself from the immensepain and suffering that have been haunting her since Penelope’s departure. However, the next advance in Juliet’s thought process marksa watershed in her mentality.
Only when she has reached the end of her personaljourney does Juliet break free from her false consciousness, and courageouslyconfront the bleak reality of her relationship with Penelope: “Too many thingshad been jokes” (111). Finally, Juliet comes to the realization that her copingmechanism may have been detrimental to Penelope’s development, as it seems to conveya lack of stability on her part: “She had been lacking in motherly inhibitionsand propriety and self-control” (111). Although this crisis of consciousnesscasts a somber light on the passage, it is also tremendously empowering asJuliet gathers the courage to firmly reject the negative tendency thatcharacterizes her: “No. No.
The fact was surely that she had already laughedtoo much about Penelope” (111). Juliet’s acknowledgement of her mistake and herregretful tone reveal remarkable emotional maturity on her part, contrary toher past behaviors. Thus, Juliet is portrayed as a character with greatresilience — a trait highly valued by Munro as it is reflective of herpersonal growth following Katherine’s death. For years, Munro had not mentionedher deceased daughter and was reluctant to acknowledge her importance,similarly to how Juliet has decided to put Penelope aside. Munro’s eventualdecision to construct a tomb for Katherine is symbolic of her finally coming toterms with loss, and so Juliet’s resignation truly resonates with Munro’spersonal struggles. On the other hand, Juliet’s strength – even in her mostvulnerable state – also speaks to whoever that has experienced great suffering.
Life can be unjust and cruel at times, so it is in our best interest to acceptloss as an integral aspect of our existence and move forward. After Juliet becomes fully aware of her active role in thetragedy, she is able to confront the breach with renewed self-control anddignity. As a result, her mindset begins to take a pragmatic approach as well,despite the highly emotional situation.
For a fleeting moment, Juliet wonderswhether Penelope’s keeping track of her is a signal of her yearning for areunion, but she dismisses such hope quickly: “Nothing. Don’t make it meananything” (111). Juliet also ponders the idea of going to Yellowknife to findher daughter, but she rejects it as well: “She must not be so mad” (111).Indeed, Penelope’s departure has left an emotional scar, but it alsostrengthens Juliet’s will and allows her to effectively re-evaluate herobjectives in life: “There was nothing to worry about, or hold herself in waitfor, concerning Penelope” (112). Yet, much as Juliet tries, she can never fullydisregard the maternal bond she once had with Penelope: “Did she say Juliet? OrMother.
My Mother” (112). The italics once again arrest our attention,providing an abrupt tonal shift from practical and detached to pained, asJuliet recalls how endearing Penelope used to address her. Yet, Juliet refuses toshare this intimate aspect of her to anyone: “She had never spoken to him aboutPenelope” (112). Contrary to how Juliet’s silence often grants her greatintrospective power throughout the trilogy, there seems to be a morerestrictive dimension to it this time.
In this instance, Juliet’s silencefunctions as a punishment, as the anguish is so profound that it haseffectively inhibited Juliet from voicing her thoughts.Her mental direction becomes less defined as Juliet worksthrough her tumultuous emotions. On one hand, Juliet still harbors deepaffection towards Penelope, and clings to the hope that her daughter feels thesame way about her. However, her reasoning prevents Juliet from indulging insuch fantasy: “Nor did Penelope exist.
The Penelope Juliet sought was gone”(112), reminding her that the current Penelope is a foreign entity.Consequently, Juliet’s psychological conflict exhibits a sense of ambiguitythat makes it hard for us to accurately determine her true feelings. Regardlessof the apathetic statement – “nobody Juliet knew” (112), we can detect thepresence of deeper, repressed emotions beneath Juliet’s cold facade, whichmakes her assertion rather unconvincing.
Even Juliet herself questions thevalidity of such affirmation: “Does Juliet believe this?” (112). The fact thatsuch personal trauma remains unresolved and unuttered suggests that Juliet isstill not ready for a new beginning: “It was probably on this evening that theyboth understood they would never be together” (112). Her reflection is tingedwith sadness and remorse, yet Juliet willingly endures her sorrow. Notably,Juliet’s resignation also provides a parallel to her empathy towards Penelope.Similar to how Juliet acknowledges her faults in the breach, she alsounderstands that her secrets will always prevent her from having a meaningfulrelationship with Gary.
Hence, Juliet’s ability to take responsibility portraysher as a strong and resilient character, even at her most vulnerable state. Nevertheless, Juliet’s independent nature unfortunatelyconfines her within her internal realm. Since Juliet strongly identifies withsilence as a virtue, the only moment when she attempts to reach out once againremains unspoken, taking the form of an internalized monologue.
As opposed to herreticent manner, Juliet’s inner thoughts effectively illustrate hermultifaceted perspective on Penelope’s character. Additionally, the tone of thepassage fluctuates as Juliet moves from one theory to another about Penelope’smotive. At first, she appears cynical and self-accusatory:”I believe, it dawned on her how much she wanted to stay away” (112).Considering how Penelope had left without a word of farewell, Juliet has nochoice but to assume the worst about herself and their relationship. However, afaint tinge of hope appears as Juliet ponders the possibility that Penelope’ssilence is purely out of embarrassment: “It’s maybe the explaining to me thatshe can’t face.
Or has not time for, really” (113). Indeed, Penelope’s refusalto reach out might be a negative indication, but it also creates room foralternative interpretations. Through her assessment of the situation, we cansee another positive dimension of Juliet — her objectivity. Her thoughtfulapproach not only allows Juliet to have an optimistic outlook, but also compelsher to accept Penelope for who she is: “Some fineness and strictness andpurity, some rock-hard honesty in her” (113).
This novel realization that thereis no answer to her situation finally resigns Juliet’s mind, and her tonesoftens: “Maybe she can’t stand me. It’s possible” (113). Even though it is anegative assumption, the indication of other possibilities produces a strangelyuplifting effect.
In spite of the fear and anxiety that Penelope’s silenceinduces, Juliet’s astuteness in her observation is an important quality thatMunro respects about her. The tension that has been hovering over the story isfinally resolved at the end of the story, as Juliet discovers a new sense ofpurpose in her life. As a result, her mentality enters a transcendentaliststate that effectively removes the constraints of Juliet’s past. She continuesto devote herself to Classics; however, Juliet develops a different approachthis time: “The word studies does not seem to describe very well whatshe does—investigations would be better” (113).
The sharp distinctionbetween two activities is emphasized by the italics, indicating that Juliet isno longer grounded within the boundaries of the texts. By contrast, she is nowfree to draw new connections, and experiment with exotic ideas. Herself-liberation also carries forward into other aspects of Juliet’s life.
Although the reconciliation with Penelope may never occur, Juliet nonethelesshas faith in an unknown future, which helps ease her anxiety and remorse: “Shekeeps on hoping for a word from Penelope, but not in any strenuous way” (113).Here, Juliet’s silence no longer serves as a punishment – it now empowers herto leave the past behind, and appreciates life as it happens. The trilogy ends on a bittersweet note, which signifiesthat it is not Munro’s intention to communicate a clear moral message to thereaders. Instead, she wants to fully depict the psychological struggles thatJuliet experiences, and explain the motives behind her actions – or inaction -via her thoughts. In the face of adversity, Juliet exudes remarkable emotionalstrength, which is largely empowered by her thoughtful moments of silence.
Fromthe way Juliet deals with loss, we also come to understand the importance offaith and hope. Only by believing in a better future can we find values in ourexistence and make progress, regardless of the reality.Finally, the fact that Eric’s death immediately follows their unresolved quarrel, and the fact that frankness is associated with malice when Juliet learns of Eric’s infidelity