Exploring Literary Technique: Characterization & Conflict
1. What changes does the narrator of the story undergo during the evening of the school dance? What causes her to change?
2. Alice Munro sets her narrator amidst several conflicting personalities. Compare the characters first of Lonnie and Mary Fortune and then of Mason Williams and Raymond Boulting. How do the two girls differ from each other? How do the two boys differ from each other? Which set of characters is drawn more vividly by Munro? What statement does Munro make by sketching certain characters in more detail than others? What conflicting ideas does the narrator get from each of these characters? What effects do they have upon the narrator?
3. To what extent does the narrator establish her own identity and independence? To what extent does she conform to the opinions of her peers? To what extent do the opinions of adults influence her?
4. “Red Dress – 1946” is told by a first-person narrator looking back on her youth. However, the narrator sometimes involves herself immediately in the story and sometimes remains distant from it. Re-read the story, observing these shifts in the narrator’s stance. Where do they occur? What purpose do you think these shifts serve for the author?
5. Re-read the last paragraph of “Red Dress – 1946.” How has the narrator’s voice changed in this paragraph? In what way does she regard her mother and herself in a new manner?
Exploring Literary Technique: Theme and Tone
1. From the title of the story, the reader is led to expect that the red dress is important. In the early part of the story, what comparisons are drawn between the clothing that the narrator’s mother sews and the clothing that the narrator wants to wear? When the school dance begins, how important is the red dress to the narrator? What additional significance does the red dress have for the reader?
2. Explore the metaphor of “trying on” in the story. The narrator “tries on” the dress her mother has sewn; she also “tries on” various ideas and attitudes. What are they? Which does she accept & reject?
3. Munro has titled this story “Red Dress – 1946.” What is the importance of the “1946” in the title? Would the story be altered without it? If so, how?
4. During your first reading of the early part of the story (before the school dance), what expectations did you have about what might follow? Were you surprised by the story’s outcome? How would you characterize the tone in the early part of the story? How would you characterize the tone in the later part (at the school dance)? What effects does Munro achieve by this change in tone?
Responding to the Reading
After reading the story, complete one of the following activities. Those students who enjoy drawing may wish to choose the second activity.
1. To what extent do we need to conform to society’s expectations in order to be considered “acceptable” to our parents’ or social expectations? to our own? Describe the moment when learning takes place?
2. Make two sketches of the narrator in her red dress. In the first, sketch the girl in her red dress as her mother sees her. In the second, sketch the scene described in the final paragraph of the story, in which the narrator returns from the dance to find her mother in the kitchen waiting up for her. In this sketch, focus on the changes apparent in the narrator.
Adapting to Other Media
Reflecting upon “Red Dress – 1946,” how do you think the story could serve as the basis of some artwork? “Translate” this story into another art medium, or media construct. What art medium would you chose? Why? What would you highlight? How would you accomplish this?