Literature Annotations

Munro, Alice
The Bear Came Over the Mountain

Genre Short Story (48 pp.)
KeywordsCaregivers, Chronic Illness/Chronic Disease, Dementia, Empathy, Hospitalization, Human Worth, Illness and the Family, Love, Marital Discord, Memory, Time, Women's Health

Fiona has Alzheimer's disease and Grant must finally place her in an institution. He is dutiful in his caregiver role and respectful of her past beauty and affection. To his horror however, he watches Fiona establish a romantic bond with another demented patient, Aubrey, whose appearance, behavior, and education are nothing like Grant's. At first, Grant resents the threat, then he gradually accepts Fiona's need.

The situation is aggravated when Aubrey's wife, Marian, brings him home. She really does not want him there, but cannot otherwise keep her house. Fiona is miserable and begins to lose weight. Grant awkwardly tries to encourage Marian to send Aubrey back, or at least to allow regular visits. She is unwilling, but eventually she relents. However, Fiona improves anyway, her disease having rapidly eradicated the memory of Aubrey, while Grant and Marian are exchanging telephone messages about the possibility of a date.

CommentaryA tender exploration of the obligations and pain of marriage, when one partner remains physically and departs spiritually, having lost the deep identity of memory. Regressed to a childlike state, Fiona still experiences the powerful emotions of love, bonding, and human concern, but she is insouciant and selfish to Grant. As her life partner, he accepts his obligation to provide comfort, slowly realizing that the emotional returns for his commitment must now come in different ways and that they include a large measure of self-discovery.
SourceHateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
PublisherMcClelland & Stewart
Place PublishedToronto
Alternate PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Alternate Edition2001
Place PublishedNew York
MiscellaneousFirst published in The New Yorker (Dec. 27 & Jan. 3, 2000). The film, Away from Her, starring Julie Christie, and written and directed by Sarah Polley, is based on this story; it was released in May, 2007 to favorable reviews.
Annotated by Duffin, Jacalyn
Date of Entry 11/16/03
Last Revised 12/10/09