The short story The Shinning Houses by Alice Munro epitomizes a time of great change, showing a conflict between the old and the new. Mary is the main character of the story and is faced with a decision that could potentially change the life of her neighboring friend, Mrs. Fullerton. Mrs. Fullerton is the oldest living member of the newly growing community, but her fifty year old house is being threatened by the on going petition, forcing the destruction of her home.
This is because the community believes her property brings down the real state value of their homes and believes it would be better for the community as a whole if she were gone, so they try to get Mary to sign the petition. Mary understands their point of view, but because of the relationship she has with Mrs. Fullerton and her own insistence that it would be wrong to do, she refuses to sign the petition. Her individual decision is a vital part of the main message and theme of the story for it is pressed upon that despite social pressure; we do not have to conform.
Mary represents the individualist lifestyle in her actions that go against the community’s petition despite their power and tendency to succeed, teaching the reader that our individual actions do in fact matter. It is through the Archetypical point of view and Social Marxist approach that the reader is able to further understand that individuality does not go unseen and unaffected but actually affects everyone in society. Within the short story the characters face external and internal conflicts.
Mary’s external conflict is again the community. The community is insistent in their plan ot get rid of Mrs. Fullerton’s house because it is not visually appealing, bringing the cosot of the real state market in their neighborhood. Mrs. Fullerton is also part of this external conflict. She is ostracized, victimized when neighbors decide to petition to have her house bulldozed, claiming its poor conditions defaces the beauty of the street, “bringing down the resale value of every house on the street. (71)
Mary’s internal conflict tells her that it would benefit her to stick with the community as they are in the majority but she doesn’t believe what they are doing are right. She faces a hard decision whether to go with the community in whatever they want to do or stand up for what she believes in. Through the Archetypal approach Mary is considered the hero of the story. She is the only character who is not afflicted with luxury-induced bigotry. While all the other neighbors are attempting to throw Mrs.
Fullerton out of the sub-division, she is able to see past the physical environment she lives in and identify the goodness within her. It is for this that the other characters such as Edith, Steve, Carl and the other neighbors are considered and recognized as the villains because of their sinister intentions to force Mrs. Fullerton out of her home for their own benefit of improving the neighborhood’s appearance and the home’s resale value.
The group in the story tries to give reasons to their actions by claiming, “it’s the law. (70) and that they “have to think about the community” (72) – the focus is clearly on themselves and their ideologies. The community believes Mrs. Fullerton “has money in the bank” (72) and that she will be paid “more than it’s worth. ” (70). This goes against what Mrs. Fullerton’s believes that “husbands may come and go, but a place you lived for fifty years is something else” (65) making her the victim of the story. Her source of revenue is being threatened by the development of the grocery stores and supermarkets and even her life would be destroyed.
This makes the irony of the story, as she once said “I don’t mind changes, either, that helps out my egg business” (Munro, 65) fore a change so sudden like this would end her whole business. Finally the symbolism in this tale is the contrast between the houses and the characters that live in them. The “white” shining houses represent the new modern times that are being adopted into the neighborhood that appear to be more visually appealing and economically sound than what they had in older times.
“Shrink at night into the raw black mountainside… (72); they value perfection and are concerned solely with money, and maintaining their high social status. The neighbors are young and classy also resembled by their shining and luxurious homes. Mrs. Fullerton’s house represents the past as it is old and outdated and in rough condition. It is rundown after years of less than stellar maintenance of the property, and just like her house, she too is old fashioned and old. This imagery ties together with the Social Marxist approach. Through the Marxist social hierarchy Mrs.
Fullerton represents the poor, hardworking, lower class, while Mary, who is an economically well-off individual, has friends who care more about the materialistic point of view, appearances and the way society views them. Just like how Mrs. Fullerton is viewed as an outcast, and is treated as such, this is a very common situation in today’s real-life society. Technology is changing as society moves into the future, and everyday it seems to have come up with a brand new “machine” or “device” that makes life for an ordinary person much simpler.
As that new technology advances through the course of time, it can be hard for people to adjust to these fast paced changes. The owner of a manufacturing factory can be dealing with the decision of whether to allow the transition of the new to replace the old. On whether to invest on brand new fancy machines that build their product, and have hundreds of men out of jobs, or keep the hard working men to do their job. It’s these hard decisions that Alice Munro attempts to highlight in “The Shinning Houses” and teaches the reader that one’s individual decisions and actions can have serious affects on the people that surround us.