The Shinning Houses Alice Munro presents a protagonist whose personality and values conflict with her neighbours. The protagonist Mary is an open-minded, fair, but somewhat powerless character.
Mary is an open-minded individual who understands values from both Mrs. Fullerton and the new community. She is the only character in the “Shinning Houses” willing to “[explore Mrs. Fullerton’s] life as she had once explored the lives of grandmothers and aunts,” and the only one who buys her fresh eggs. Mary “[smiles]” openly to everyone while her new neighbours, whose “faces [are] applied,” “smile in rather a special way” that they only perceive Mary “as a conversational delight.” Even at the birthday party did Mary keep a smile and listen to the new neighbours talk among themselves, going about in “circles of complaint.” Mary’s own personality and values conflict with her neighbours’, but she remains open to any situation she faces.
Mary is a fair lady, who does what she believes is right. Her name suggests religious allegory with Mary, the Mother of God, and human creation. Mary exhibits her Mother-like qualities at the birthday party, defending Mrs. Fullerton, the neighbour who “never [changes],” against the mothers who wear “nylons and skirts,”¦[their] hair fixed and faces applied.” She knows that Mrs. Fullerton deserves a chance to stay in her home, as Mary, the Mother of God knows that all creation deserves a chance to live. Mary’s fair personality conflicts with her neighbours’ values and beliefs: while she is fair to human rights, the neighbours are fair to their community of “shinning houses.” Although Mary is courageous in being the only person to defend Mrs. Fullerton, she is somewhat powerless with her arguments against her neighbours. Mary stands alone only listening to her neighbours speak with “self-assertion.” She remains powerless with “no argument” to defend Mrs.
Fullerton and her “barn.” Outnumbered by “property-owners” who admire each other “as people admire each other for being drunk,” Mary is scared to tell her neighbours that “[Mrs. Fullerton has] been here for a long time.” She tells them anyway because she is compassionate toward Mrs. Fullerton”Mary is the only one who understands that “her place had become fixed, impregnable, all its accumulations necessary” down to the last “stacks of old police magazines.” These neighbours however, do not care for compassion. They care for their children and community. Mary’s compassion, her only argument, fails to win support from the neighbours, creating more conflict in values with these neighbours “who win.” Mary faces a difficult situation in which both sides (neighbours and herself) are correct. Her open-mindedness, fairness, and powerlessness are traits whish create conflict in the “Shinning Houses.” Mary remains unheard, and there is nothing she can do but keep a “disaffected heart.”