At majority of the passage conveys a bittersweet

At the beginning of the excerpt, Juliet has just learned of
Penelope’s whereabouts, after fifteen years of no communication between them.
From the coincidental encounter with Heather, Juliet also discovers that
Penelope has been silently keeping track of her as well, as Heather says: “she
said you were still living here” (Munro 109). This grand revelation sends
Juliet into a trance, in which she toils over the complex feelings that she has
associated with Penelope since her departure. From page 110 to the end of the
story, the constant shifts in Juliet’s outlook constitute her trajectory of
consciousness, and gradually ease into a resolution when Juliet is finally able
to put her troubled mind at ease.

            Despite being granted the information that she has hungered
for so long, Juliet responds to Heather’s news rather nonchalantly, and does
not attempt to inquire more about Penelope. Her unusual reaction to the
unexpected news gives emphasis to Juliet’s tendency to stay silent throughout
the novel – a method which she employs to empower her inner processes. In spite
of Juliet’s reserved demeanor, her mind is filled with endless questions
regarding her daughter’s life. As a result, the majority of the passage conveys
a bittersweet atmosphere, as Juliet battles between feelings of resentment
towards Penelope and her overwhelming joy. Having no contact with Penelope for
years, Juliet feels a strong urge to pinpoint where her daughter is living to
reassure that Penelope is safe: “That meant she must live in Whitehorse or in
Yellowknife” (110). It is important to note that this piece of information does
not benefit their relationship in any way, as the locations are too vague for
Juliet to organize a visit. Thus, Juliet’s speculation likely stems from a
genuine concern for her daughter’s well-being. However, as Juliet proceeds, the
tone of her thoughts shifts from reassured to rather materialistic. She relies
on the few details given by Heather to further speculate about Penelope’s
living conditions: “That meant a private school. That meant money”. Earlier in
the novel, Juliet admits to having wanted to “establish Eric as an educated
man” (50), and takes great pride in her scholastic achievements as well. Her
focus on individual accomplishments seems to portray Juliet as a
status-conscious and critical woman, who uses the same measurement on her
daughter.

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Her judgmental side also takes notice of Heather’s comment
on Penelope’s unkempt appearance: “Did that mean she had aged? That she was out
of shape after five pregnancies, that she had not taken care of herself?”
(110). To some extent, Juliet’s critical evaluations are evident of her
internalization of societal demands. Although she invariably rebels against
society’s imposed standards, Juliet also subconsciously yearns for its
acceptance at times. This notion brings to the foreground her experience in
“Soon”: “And here she was, redeemed. Like any other young woman, pushing her
baby” (56). Throughout Juliet’s life, women are placed under a strong pressure
to conform; therefore, it is possible that Juliet also wants her daughter to
display 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 care
of herself?” (110) also gives credence to the preceding claim. On one level, it
captures our attention, creating a sense of disturbance on the page that is
indicative of Juliet’s — and society’s — horrified reaction at Penelope’s
self-neglect. On another level, italics in literature are often associated with
memories; thus, the phrase might be a reverberation of what Juliet has been
told during her childhood, which she unconsciously passes on to her daughter.
Interestingly, this cycle of persecution resonates strongly with Munro’s own
experience. In her interview, she recalls aspiring to be a married woman as it
was “the only way you become successful”, even though she strives to break free
from the constraints imposed by her community. Hence, her identity conflict is
an important aspect about Juliet that Munro treasures about her.

            As Juliet ponders Heather’s update on Penelope, her past
speculations about her daughter’s life resurface. There is a tonal shift from
captious to amused as she notices the sharp contrast between her version of Penelope
and reality. “Not at all” (111) – the revelation hits Juliet as she realizes
how Penelope’s unexpected prosperous lifestyle shows how little she actually
understands about her daughter now. The sense of estrangement that encompasses
Juliet’s life once again reemerges, which adds nuance to the superficial
amusement 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 might
laugh about how wrong Juliet had been.” (111). As a matter of fact, Juliet’s
inappropriate response to dismal situations is a recurring theme throughout the
trilogy. For instance, Juliet jokes about “throwing herself into the flames”
(97) at Eric’s cremation, much to the horror of others. Thus, laughter can be
interpreted as Juliet’s means of self-medication, as it allows her to be
emotionally detached from the traumatic events. Since there is no way to
contact Penelope, Juliet relies on laughter to shield herself from the immense
pain and suffering that have been haunting her since Penelope’s departure.

            However, the next advance in Juliet’s thought process marks
a watershed in her mentality. Only when she has reached the end of her personal
journey does Juliet break free from her false consciousness, and courageously
confront the bleak reality of her relationship with Penelope: “Too many things
had been jokes” (111). Finally, Juliet comes to the realization that her coping
mechanism may have been detrimental to Penelope’s development, as it seems to convey
a lack of stability on her part: “She had been lacking in motherly inhibitions
and propriety and self-control” (111). Although this crisis of consciousness
casts a somber light on the passage, it is also tremendously empowering as
Juliet gathers the courage to firmly reject the negative tendency that
characterizes her: “No. No. The fact was surely that she had already laughed
too much about Penelope” (111). Juliet’s acknowledgement of her mistake and her
regretful tone reveal remarkable emotional maturity on her part, contrary to
her past behaviors. Thus, Juliet is portrayed as a character with great
resilience — a trait highly valued by Munro as it is reflective of her
personal growth following Katherine’s death. For years, Munro had not mentioned
her deceased daughter and was reluctant to acknowledge her importance,
similarly to how Juliet has decided to put Penelope aside. Munro’s eventual
decision to construct a tomb for Katherine is symbolic of her finally coming to
terms with loss, and so Juliet’s resignation truly resonates with Munro’s
personal struggles. On the other hand, Juliet’s strength – even in her most
vulnerable 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 accept
loss as an integral aspect of our existence and move forward.

After Juliet becomes fully aware of her active role in the
tragedy, she is able to confront the breach with renewed self-control and
dignity. As a result, her mindset begins to take a pragmatic approach as well,
despite the highly emotional situation. For a fleeting moment, Juliet wonders
whether Penelope’s keeping track of her is a signal of her yearning for a
reunion, but she dismisses such hope quickly: “Nothing. Don’t make it mean
anything” (111). Juliet also ponders the idea of going to Yellowknife to find
her 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 also
strengthens Juliet’s will and allows her to effectively re-evaluate her
objectives in life: “There was nothing to worry about, or hold herself in wait
for, concerning Penelope” (112). Yet, much as Juliet tries, she can never fully
disregard the maternal bond she once had with Penelope: “Did she say Juliet? Or
Mother. My Mother” (112). The italics once again arrest our attention,
providing an abrupt tonal shift from practical and detached to pained, as
Juliet recalls how endearing Penelope used to address her. Yet, Juliet refuses to
share this intimate aspect of her to anyone: “She had never spoken to him about
Penelope” (112). Contrary to how Juliet’s silence often grants her great
introspective power throughout the trilogy, there seems to be a more
restrictive dimension to it this time. In this instance, Juliet’s silence
functions as a punishment, as the anguish is so profound that it has
effectively inhibited Juliet from voicing her thoughts.

Her mental direction becomes less defined as Juliet works
through her tumultuous emotions. On one hand, Juliet still harbors deep
affection towards Penelope, and clings to the hope that her daughter feels the
same way about her. However, her reasoning prevents Juliet from indulging in
such 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 ambiguity
that makes it hard for us to accurately determine her true feelings. Regardless
of the apathetic statement – “nobody Juliet knew” (112), we can detect the
presence of deeper, repressed emotions beneath Juliet’s cold facade, which
makes her assertion rather unconvincing. Even Juliet herself questions the
validity of such affirmation: “Does Juliet believe this?” (112). The fact that
such personal trauma remains unresolved and unuttered suggests that Juliet is
still not ready for a new beginning: “It was probably on this evening that they
both understood they would never be together” (112). Her reflection is tinged
with 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 also
understands that her secrets will always prevent her from having a meaningful
relationship with Gary. Hence, Juliet’s ability to take responsibility portrays
her as a strong and resilient character, even at her most vulnerable state.

Nevertheless, Juliet’s independent nature unfortunately
confines her within her internal realm. Since Juliet strongly identifies with
silence as a virtue, the only moment when she attempts to reach out once again
remains unspoken, taking the form of an internalized monologue. As opposed to her
reticent manner, Juliet’s inner thoughts effectively illustrate her
multifaceted perspective on Penelope’s character. Additionally, the tone of the
passage fluctuates as Juliet moves from one theory to another about Penelope’s
motive. 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 no
choice but to assume the worst about herself and their relationship. However, a
faint tinge of hope appears as Juliet ponders the possibility that Penelope’s
silence is purely out of embarrassment: “It’s maybe the explaining to me that
she can’t face. Or has not time for, really” (113). Indeed, Penelope’s refusal
to reach out might be a negative indication, but it also creates room for
alternative interpretations. Through her assessment of the situation, we can
see another positive dimension of Juliet — her objectivity. Her thoughtful
approach not only allows Juliet to have an optimistic outlook, but also compels
her to accept Penelope for who she is: “Some fineness and strictness and
purity, some rock-hard honesty in her” (113). This novel realization that there
is no answer to her situation finally resigns Juliet’s mind, and her tone
softens: “Maybe she can’t stand me. It’s possible” (113). Even though it is a
negative assumption, the indication of other possibilities produces a strangely
uplifting effect. In spite of the fear and anxiety that Penelope’s silence
induces, Juliet’s astuteness in her observation is an important quality that
Munro respects about her.

The tension that has been hovering over the story is
finally resolved at the end of the story, as Juliet discovers a new sense of
purpose in her life. As a result, her mentality enters a transcendentalist
state that effectively removes the constraints of Juliet’s past. She continues
to devote herself to Classics; however, Juliet develops a different approach
this time: “The word studies does not seem to describe very well what
she does—investigations would be better” (113). The sharp distinction
between two activities is emphasized by the italics, indicating that Juliet is
no longer grounded within the boundaries of the texts. By contrast, she is now
free to draw new connections, and experiment with exotic ideas. Her
self-liberation also carries forward into other aspects of Juliet’s life.
Although the reconciliation with Penelope may never occur, Juliet nonetheless
has faith in an unknown future, which helps ease her anxiety and remorse: “She
keeps 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 her
to leave the past behind, and appreciates life as it happens.

The trilogy ends on a bittersweet note, which signifies
that it is not Munro’s intention to communicate a clear moral message to the
readers. Instead, she wants to fully depict the psychological struggles that
Juliet experiences, and explain the motives behind her actions – or inaction –
via her thoughts. In the face of adversity, Juliet exudes remarkable emotional
strength, which is largely empowered by her thoughtful moments of silence. From
the way Juliet deals with loss, we also come to understand the importance of
faith and hope. Only by believing in a better future can we find values in our
existence 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 

 

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