Study Guide

Neil Travers in Passion

By Alice Munro

Neil Travers

Bad Boy, Good Lips

"Neil is—he's deep," says Mrs. Travers. "Deep unfathomable caves of ocean bear" (72). First of all, what exactly is meant by "deep unfathomable caves of ocean bear"? The world may never know, but there's a lot of dark, secretive mystery wrapped up in that phrase. Unfathomable caves in the vast, unknowable ocean? Caves filled with the always elusive ocean bear? That's pretty deep.

If "Passion" were a teen movie, Neil would be the tortured bad boy with a mysterious past. The narrator describes how his mouth seems "to curl in on some vigorous impatience, or appetite, or pain" (144). When he shows up to Thanksgiving dinner, Grace recognizes "the smell of liquor edged with mint" (137). But Neil doesn't seem drunk, which suggests he has a remarkable alcohol tolerance and has probably gotten really good at appearing sober.

Drunk in Love

Still, there's something vulnerable about Neil despite his "deep unfathomable caves of ocean bear." When Grace informs him that she dreamed she saw her uncle at the bootlegger's house, Neil responds:

You could tell me about your uncle. Tell me about where you live. Your job. Anything. I just like to hear you talk. (264)

Maybe, in a small way, this is what love is – wanting to hear someone's voice, wanting to hear what she has to say.

Or maybe Neil is just very, very lonely. But why is he lonely? Why does he drink? Why is he "deep unfathomable caves of ocean bear" and not happy with his marriage and family? The reasons are never clear. All we get is this:

The same thing was waiting, no matter what, and all the time. Drinking, needing to drink – that was just some sort of distraction, like everything else. (291)