Rebellions and Subversive Get-Togethers: Alice Munro in Conversation with Social Reproduction Theory
In discussing Alice Munro’s fiction, critics routinely train their spotlights on the domestic drama, the realist detail, and the autobiographical disclosure. This focus, I argue, is at once incredibly lucrative and all too narrow. Concealed underneath the concrete particulars of sparring families, tidy living rooms, and painful medical procedures lie traces of mythological deities, parallel universes, and almost-telepathic sites of contact. This meeting place of domestic and speculative fiction opens a range of possibilities where the restrictive what is meets an unfettered what if? What if she had the option not to marry? What if two bodies were affectively linked? Exploring such questions, my thesis encounters a productive entanglement of literature and politics—one that attends to the origins of these realist constraints, and renegotiates the boundaries of what is “realistic.” To pursue this further, I deploy Marxist-feminism’s social reproduction theory (SRT) as a (post)critical reading methodology. Rapidly regaining prominence in recent years, SRT provides a historical-materialist account of women’s oppression by investigating how capital alters social formations in the image of the market. Crucial for our purposes is Nancy Fraser’s concept of “boundary struggles,” where the divisions between production and reproduction, nature and culture, deconstruction and reparation do not collapse, but become live sites of contest. As principal actors in these struggles, Munro’s women demand a hermeneutics of curiosity and engagement, as opposed to suspicion alone.