Study Guide

Passion Themes

By Alice Munro

  • Change

    Things change. Sound familiar? It's one of those ideas we see and hear so often that it can sometimes lose its meaning. But "Passion" is all about recognizing how things change. For instance, things get old. Houses crumble, people get rickety, relationships and memories fade. Change can perceived as both positive and negative, and it's an important and inevitable aspect of being alive. 

    Questions About Change

    1. How does Grace notice change when she returns to the Ottawa Valley at the beginning of the story? Have you ever returned to a place and been surprised by how much it changed? How did it make you feel?
    2. What role does memory play in change? Do you think we're bothered more by the reality of change, or by the fact that maybe what we see doesn't match our memory?
    3. What sort of change do you tend to think of as sad? What sort of change makes you happy or hopeful? How are these ideas perpetuated or represented in our culture (whether through movies, stories, TV shows, commercials, or whatever else?)? For example, the idea of the Ugly Duckling becoming a Beautiful Swan is nice in a lot of ways, and we see it everywhere: in reality TV, commercials, movies…the actual story of the ugly duckling. But how might it also be depressing?  How might it give someone unreasonable expectations for how life should go?                    

    Chew on This

    People change.

    People don't change.

  • Gender/Women and Femininity

    It's easy to confuse gender with sex ("sex" as in biological identity). Gender seems to have more of a social or cultural meaning. And the effect of social/cultural definitions of gender is a big concern throughout Alice Munro's work, particularly in "Passion," in which part of that depressing "pushing our passion behind the washtubs" business probably has something to do with feeling all weighed down by gender expectations.

    Questions About Gender/Women and Femininity

    1. How can cultural expectations influence gender roles?
    2. Does Grace do anything to challenge gender roles?                             
    3. How have notions of femininity changed in your lifetime?
    4. How is gender wrapped up with notions of individuality and independence?                         

    Chew on This

    Gender roles limit our individuality.

    Gender roles do not affect our sense of individuality; it's always up to us to be who we want to be. 

  • Sexuality

    It's big. It's complicated! It's sexuality—a word that gets thrown around in order to describe both sexual preference and a person's capacity for sexual feelings. It's a subject that can be further complicated with passion, and in Munro's story we see characters that seem to have lost the connection between passion and sexuality, characters that desire that connection, and characters that seem in the process of losing it. 

    Questions About Sexuality

    1. How is sexuality related to passion? How is it different?
    2. How is sexuality related to love? What happens when the two are confused? Are there any relationships in the story in which love and sexuality get confused?                  
    3. How can pressures concerning gender roles/expectations get in the way of sexuality?           

    Chew on This

    Grace realizes her capacity for sexuality during the drive with Neil.

    Expectations about sexuality lead to disappointment.

  • Memory and The Past

    You could argue that "Passion" is primarily about an old woman trying to reconstruct her past, which is an activity we all engage in. We often talk about nostalgia and find ways to create it. It can make us think about certain TV shows or movies, not because we actually enjoy them, but because they give us that little nostalgia buzz, that feeling like we're trying to reconnect with something that's been lost. 

    Questions About Memory and The Past

    1. There's a lot of looking back in "Passion," but does the story have a nostalgic tone?
    2. How can memory betray us? How is it useful?                                   
    3. Is the past worth thinking about? Is it possible to not think about the past?                

    Chew on This

    Grace returns to the Ottawa Valley in an effort to relive the past.

    Trying to relive the past is pointless.

  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Dreams, hopes, and plans seem to swirl in and out and amid everything that happens in "Passion." Grace dreams about romance and has plans to someday do something that doesn't involve caning chairs. Mrs. Travers once dreamed of doing something that didn't involve business school, but she went to business school. Maury also dreams of romance, but his love for Grace is unrequited. And Neil drinks to distract himself from the possibility that there's no point to dreams, hopes, and plans. It's all very messy, but Munro tackles it head on in all its ambiguous and sometimes-disappointing glory. 

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. How do Grace's expectations lead to disappointment?
    2. Do you think Mrs. Travers has lived any of her dreams, hopes, or plans?                   
    3. What do you think Mavis dreams and hopes for? How does she mirror Neil, and what do those similarities suggest about her plans (or lack thereof?)                      

    Chew on This

    Dreaming, hoping, or planning is what gives us motivation to do stuff. We couldn't live without doing it.

    Dreaming, hoping, or planning sets us up for disappointment.

  • Innocence

    Warm nostalgic glows, summer vacation, first love, teddy bears, and sleepovers—we all tend to agree these things fall into the "nice" category. A lot of that may have to do with an idea that these things are innocent, or that they are most often associated with childhood. But for all our cheerleading, we often have a weird relationship to innocence. Sometimes it gets sexualized (like with schoolgirl uniforms.). We celebrate it but also expect it to stop at a certain age. Being too innocent or childlike as an adult can draw suspicion, but all the while, the people who feel suspicious of all that childlike innocence probably sometimes get nostalgic about childhood and how it seems like all that innocence has slipped away. You can see some of this confusion around innocence at play in "Passion." For Grace, losing innocence means coming of age, and don't we tend to see that as a good thing? But coming of age means becoming an adult and losing a lot of the joy of being a kid. So what's Grace supposed to do? All she can do is keep getting older, and all we know is thinking about all of this leads to a lot of thought knots. 

    Questions About Innocence

    1. Are there any characters in "Passion" that appear innocent?
    2. In what ways does Grace struggle with coming of age?                                 
    3. Is there any imagery or symbolism that involves losing innocence?
    4. Is coming of age a good thing?             

    Chew on This

    The Thanksgiving drive with Neil is an allegory for Grace's coming of age.

    Grace is still innocent at the end of the story.