Essay about the use of focalization in Alice Munro’s “Differently”

“Differently” revels in climax defying focalization. Georgia’s perspective flaunts the catastrophic end to her and Maya’s friendship, stripping away all potential gratification offered by the mystique of a happy conclusion. As Georgia ominously comments on the inevitability of their estrangement, she presents her broken psyche as something that solves all conflict through the annihilation of her personal bonds. In “Differently”, Georgia’s focalization conveys her attempts at expressing autonomy through the sacrifice of relationships, yet reveals how this method ultimately prevents the self-actualization she craves. She denies her own feelings in an attempt to live up to an ideal she never realizes is unattainable. However, the narrator also presents a fallible viewpoint through its assessment of what Georgia should strive to do.

Georgia’s focalization reveals how frantic she becomes when reminiscing about life changing decisions. It captures the anxieties, lack of self-awareness, and impulsiveness that plagues her thinking:

“What she had to do, and she knew it, was to scrape herself raw, to root out all the addiction to the gifts of those two pale prodigies. Miles and Maya. Both of them slippery, shimmery – liars, seducers, finaglers. But you would have thought that after such scourging she’d have scuttled back into her marriage and locked its doors, and appreciated what she had there as never before.” (209)

This use of free indirect speech shows Georgia trying to convince herself that in her manic, vitriolic state, the only true choice is to end her relationships. Maya had betrayed her, Miles was abusive, and Ben lacked the edge she desired. The language also intensely exhausts a slew of terms, trying in vain to identify what issues she has with people.  Using “slippery, shimmery – liars, seducers, finaglers” (209) captures her frantic state. The language’s quick pacing leaves no room for further introspection into her life. This lack of analysis reveals Georgia’s perspective as being incapable of recognizing that all these traits that she despises in others, she has in herself. She is “slippery” (209) through the various identities she adopts when talking to people. This malleable persona absolves her from analyzing her own life. Instead, she pursues rejuvenation through ending her various relationships. The focalization’s use of fragmented dialogue emphasizes that Georgia lives on impulse, ultimately ignoring the potential outcomes of her action.

The passage also portrays how the inertia of relationships consumes her. Through her focalization, relationships become an “addiction” (209). They intertwine into an elaborate, delicate, machination designed to compensate for one another. Ben provided stability, Miles provided sexual release, and Maya served as a parallel figure through which Georgia validated her views. This dependence on others provides the context for how the focalization reveals her “addiction” (209). Just as well, the language is violent and harsh, with her seeing the only way to resolve the issues as to “scrape herself raw”. She severs all bonds with Maya, Ben, and Miles. Although she temporarily resolves the symptoms of her dissatisfaction, she never addresses the underlying issues that propagate this cycle. After visiting Raymond, her self-defeating attitudes are epitomized in her saying “whatever she did she would have to do again.” (210) She relapses, revealing that any changes she makes exist only for her to make the same mistakes again.

The narrator serves an important role in contextualizing Georgia’s deceptive focalization. More curiously, they offer advice and rebuttals to Georgia’s views and actions:

“She had been happy there, from time to time. She had been sullen, restless, bewildered, and happy. But she said most vehemently, Never, never. I was never happy, she said.                                                 People always say that.                                                                 –                                                                        People make momentous shifts but not the changes they imagine.” (210)

This use of free indirect speech distinguishes between Georgia and the Narrator. Although the narrator imbues their own views into their focalization of Georgia, it does reveal some glimmers of truth not presented in Georgia’s perspective. Georgia never admitted to being happy, even though she was “from time to time” (210). The use of free indirect speech transitioning into indirect discourse complicates the role of the narrator. Through the use of “Never, never. I was never happy, she said” (210) the author blends the dialogue of both the narrator and Georgia. This fragmented merging shows Georgia’s conscious rejection of what she feels. Thus, Georgia’s issue is not attaining happiness, but rather, an aversion to admitting to its origin.

However, the shifting focalization strikes a compelling juxtaposition between the narrator and Georgia. The narrator acts as a conscience, offering her advice and pointing towards conclusions she is unable to acknowledge to others.  Knowing remarks about how she should “appreciate her marriage” or that the logical solution would be to “lock its doors” addresses the concerns of an implied readership. Advice issued by the narrator in effect constructs them as a different character, and as one that shares the supposed reader’s values. The narrator presumes that the reader agrees that Georgia should strive for stability and improve what she currently has.

More importantly, the narrator compartmentalizes these actions through a dismissive philosophy. The perspective offered by the idea of people making “shifts” (210) but not “changes” (210) elucidates how despite Georgia’s attempts to change, she is destined to remain static as a person. Georgia can change her partners, friends, location, job, or any other factors, but the transcendent phrasing of the quote reveals that these are only transitory actions. Her focalization exists in the short term and is unable to realize that without changing herself, these actions are mostly futile.

Constricting and expanding the timeframe of the events, “Differently” casts Georgia into the role of someone doomed to make the same mistakes permanently. Georgia’s focalization reveals that she sees her inhibiting behaviour not as limiting, but instead, as a way to exert a power she desperately desires. The contrast offered through the narrator’s focalization illustrates how the inability for her to change is a tragic inevitability, and that the potential to remedy her issues will never be present. Ultimately, by focusing on misguidedly punishing others for their faults, Georgia is incapable of the introspection necessary to address her own.

Works Cited

Munro, Alice. “Differently” My Best Stories. Ed. Alice Munro. Toronto: Penguin, 2009.                                                          187-212. Print.

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