“An Ounce of Cure” and “The Quiet One” Essay or Narrative

Ned, in the “The Quiet One,” spends a good deal of time worrying about being “a different breed” from his friends. By Contrast, the protagonist of “An Ounce of Cure” agonizes over the “painful banality” with which she behaves while in love with Martin Collingwood. Both, however, are shocked out of their dramatized feelings by what Munro calls, “the terrible and fascinating reality of … the way things happened.”

  1. Analyze and compare the incidents that startle the two adolescents out of their more or less self-inflicted miseries. What do the two incidents have in common? In what ways do they differ? How would you feel if you had experienced these incidents? Do you think they would change your life? If so, in what way? Now, compare what the two protagonists have to say about how they were affected by the incidents. Are you convinced by what they say their experiences did to them? Explain why or why not in an essay.
  2. Imagine that Ned, in the “The Quiet One,” attends the same school as the narrator of “An ounce of Cure.” Their English Language Arts teacher has instructed them to work together as a group to analyze the pressures adolescents unwittingly exert on each other. Write a narrative in which your characters discuss the pressures their peers do or do not exert on them.

“An Ounce of Cure” by Alice Munro (Canada)

“Why is it a temptation to refer to this sort of thing lightly, with irony, with amazement…?  That is what we are apt to do, speaking love; with adolescent
love, of course, it’s practically obligatory…”

Two voices seem to be speaking in the above passage:  there is the narrator of “An Ounce of Cure,” who asks her readers why we all tend to trivialize our memories of unrequited adolescent love.  And then there is the author, who asks the question apparently to herself; not to draw her readers into a shared experience, but rather to muse on the question of why she, and other writers, tend to speak of teenaged passions in such jocular tones.  Munro realizes, as few writers do, that one has to set bounds not just to sympathy (that, apparently, is easy enough to do) but also to humour.

But Munro’s accomplishment lies not only in establishing the right tone, nor even finding the right blend of adolescent and adult voices, but also in so framing and editing the story of a former “catastrophe” as to show both the cause as perceived by the adolescent (“my own incommodious nature”) and the cause as perceived by the adult.  From the adult narrator’s perspective, the adolescent needs only to get beyond her sense of helplessness (“dominated my mind,” “against my will,” “gave up my soul for dead”); needs only to be cured, as the title suggests, not so much in the sense of overcoming a disease as in the sense of ripening or maturing.  Munro’s narrator is eventually able to respond in her own terms to a gentleman’s “reminiscent smile.”  If she gives the adult Martin Collingwood “a gentle, uncomprehending look,” it is a decidedly gentle but fully comprehending look that she gives her teenaged self.

Did you ever “put your foot in it?”  Looking back on something foolish or wrong that you did five or six years ago is an embarrassing or at least disquieting experience; the question “How could I have been so—awkward/stupid/dumb/unfeeling?” invariably comes to mind.

Alice Munro, 1931—

Alice Munro is well known to almost any lover of literature in Canada, and is one of our most internationally recognized writers.  While Munro (née Laidlaw) started writing in her early teens, her marvelously crafted short stories did not find their way into hardcover until 1968, when her firs collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, won a Governor General’s Award.  Since that time, her novel Lives of Girls and Women  and her growing number of short story collections have won numerous awards, both here and abroad.  She has also written a number of television scripts including one for the CBC series “The Newcomers.”  Munro writes with a sensitive understanding of the depth of the experiences of “ordinary folk,” describing these experiences in such patient and engaging detail that, in Munro’s own words, they are “not real but true.”

Exploring the Text

  1. Respond to this story in any way you like but keep the following questions in mind: How old do you think the narrator was when this incident took place? At what point in the story did you feel most amused by something the young girl said or did? At what point did you feel most sympathetic towards her? Did anything in this story remind you of an experience you had in your early teens? Explain. Share your ideas with one other student.
  2. On what maxim is the title of this story based? Account for the changes the author made in this maxim. Explain the significance of the title with regard to the story. In what two ways could the word cured be interpreted? Of what, and in what way, is the narrator cured?
  3. Focusing on three specific incidents, analyze the mother-daughter relationship in this story. What conclusions can you draw about the mother’s character from what we are told about her?
  4. The narrator says she “showed the most painful banality” in her whole relationship with Martin Collingwood. Do you agree? Explain why or why not.
  5. Reread the section of the story which begins with the protagonist phoning her friends and ends with their departure from the Berrymans’. Explain why Kay Stringer was “exactly the person” the narrator needed at this point.
  6. Work with at least two other students on this assignment. Explain clearly what is meant by three of the following excerpts from the story, and use an example—not necessarily from the story—to clarify each of your explanations:
  • “the unaccountable past” (p. 32)
  • “the elaborate and unnecessary subterfuge that young girls delight in” (p. 36)
  • “oh, delicious moment in a well-organized farce!” (p. 37)
  • “covering up the ignominy of their departure with a mechanical roar of defiance” (p. 38)
  • “I gave him a gentle uncomprehending look in return” (p. 40)

Personal Response

Munro says adults are often tempted to refer to their adolescent behaviour with irony, humour, and amazement, but she implies that it is not always fair to one’s younger self to do so.  She says she did “all the stupid, sad, half-ashamed things…that people in love always do.”  And then she gives a list of examples.  Are you in love now?  Have you been love?  Have you done some of the “stupid, sad, half-ashamed things” Munro speaks of (pp. 32-33)?  Describe the experience, with as much detail as possible, in your journal.  Try to avoid speaking of yourself in a derogatory way; after all, as Munro  says, this is what people in love always do.


Fill in the blanks in the paragraph below with whatever words seem most appropriate.  Then compare your choices with those of two other students.  In each case, decide which of the three choices you find most effective.  Then compare the group’s results with Munro’s (p. 31).  Explain why you do or do not find her choice of words (her diction) more effective than your own.

My father would drink a beer on a hot day, but my mother did not join him, and—whether accidentally or _______________________—this drink was always consumed outside  the house.  Most of the people we knew were the same way, in the small town where we lived.  I ought not to say that it was this which got me into difficulties, because the difficulties I got into were a _______________________ expression of my own _______________________ accomplishment (my departure for my first formal dance, I mean, or my hellbent preparations for a _____________________  on college) with an expression of ___________________ and
_______________________ despair, as if she could not possibly expect, did not ask, that it should go with me as it did with other girls; the dreamed of spoils of daughters—orchids, nice boys, diamond rings—would be borne home in due course by the daughters of her friends, but not by me; all she could do was hope for a lesser rather than a greater ___________________—an elopement, say, with a boy who could never earn his living, rather than an ________________________ into the _____________________ _____________________ trade.