An Examination of Royal Beatings by Alice Munro

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It has been said of Anton Chekhov, the renown Russian short-story writer, that in all of his “work, there is never exactly a point. Rather we see into someone’s hear – in just a few pages, the curtain concealing these lives has been drawn back, revealing them in all their helplessness and rage and rancor.” Alice Munro, too, falls into this category. Many of her short-stories, such as “Royal Beatings” focus more on character revelation rather than plot.

That is not to say that nothing happens in Munro’s short-stories. Instead, multiple scenes take place in “Royal Beatings.” The narrator, Rose, tells us of her life as a child growing up in Hanratty, Ontario; of her stepmother, Flo’s, stories and work in the store the family owned, of her father’s habit of isolating himself in his furniture shed, of being beaten and then indulged. However, the plot is secondary to the story. The scenes created by Munro are not based in action, but emotion and character revelation.

“Royal Beatings” begins in the imperfect tense with Rose telling us what her life was like. Her attitude and her circumstances are immediately revealed. Her mother had died when she was still a baby, and so she grew up with “only Flo for a mother.” Her father was not readily available and somewhat scared Rose. Rose loves her family but is not like them; she is clumsy instead of clever and had a need to “pursue absurdities.” Characters are revealed and emotions are discovered but the story does not become about action until nine pages into the story. Then, the reader is thrust into present tense action. Rose vividly describes a Saturday of which she and Flo argue and irritate one another. Rose’s father is called in from his shed by Flo and so he gives Rose what the r...

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...e. She connects both aspects of Hat, though she was never able to connect her father, the man who occasionally beat her, with the man who spoke of literature and philosophy when alone in his shed.

The story “Royal Beatings” is a beautiful representation of a young girl’s view of the world around her. Munro uses vivid details to create a story and characters that feel real. She draws the reader in and allows the reader to understand Rose through her poignant words about her life. Then, in the end, enables the reader to make the connections that Rose perhaps misses. “Royal Beatings” is not about any particular moment in Rose’s life or any certain action related to the reader. The story is, in fact, not about plot at all. It is instead about creating characters with a sense of verisimilitude and humanity while revealing “all their helplessness and rage and rancor.”
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