Lesson Four Nettles

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Lesson Four Nettles

Alice Munro

  • Objectives

After studying this essay, students will be able to:

1. grasp the theme of the short story (friendship and love, marriage and divorce, women’s identity in society, conflicts between career and family, etc.);

2. identify the regional identity of the writing(the distinctive Canadian landscape, lifestyle and customs as revealed in the story );

3. grasp the major characteristics of the writing (shifts in time, illusory simplicity, vivid depiction of natural scenes, probing of complicated feelings and subtle meanings of life in a simple plot, the employment of symbolism, etc.);

4. conduct a series of reading, listening, speaking and writing activities related to the theme of the unit.

  • Time allotment: The teaching plan is to be carried out with 10 periods.

About the Author and the Story “Nettles”

Regarded by many critics as the great living writer of fiction in Canada, Alice Munro has made her career out of short stories and often been compared to Chekhov.

Born into a family of farmers in the small rural town of Wingham, Ontario, Munro began writing in her teens. She published her first story in 1950 when she was still a student at western Ontario University. Her first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades, was published in 1968. It received high acclaim and won that year’s Governor General’s Award, which is the highest literary prize in Canada. Her next work was Lives of Girls and Women (1971), a collection of interlinked stories published as a novel, and it won the Canadian Booksellers Association International Book Year Award. Her other books are all short story collections: Something I’ve Bee Meaning to Tell You (1974); Who Do You Think You Are? (1978, titled The Beggar Maid in English and American in English and American editions); The Moons of Jupiter (1982); The Progress of Love (1986); Friends of My Youth (1990); Open Secrets (1994); and Selected Stories (1996). Who Do You Think You Are? And The Progress of Love won the Governor General’s Award. Her latest book, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001), is a collection of nine short stories. You can see, Munro is a prolific writer.

The short story “Nettles”, which first appeared in New Yorker in 2000, is included in this book. In this story, the author uses first-person narration. The plot of the story evolves around a middle-aged woman’s reunion with a childhood boy friend in 1979, but it moves back and forth between past and present. Like most other stories by Munro, the protagonist is a woman. The “I” in the story should not be taken as the author herself although the subject matter of Munro’s stories has often developed from her own experience. Munro has explained in various interviews that her stories are not autobiographical, but she does claim an “emotional reality” for her characters that are drawn from her own life. Munro’s life experiences of growing up in a relatively poor provincial southwestern Ontario town during the depression, going through the rebelliousness and idealism of adolescence, discovering sex, leaving home, falling in love, getting married, having children, getting divorced, and getting along in a variety of complicated relationships, all inform the fiction she creates. “Nettles” is no exception. Her fictional world ranges across the whole breadth of Canada, but her stories that take place in Ontario are rooted in her own formative past, represent more evocative settings experience in childhood and are recollected by a perceptive adult memory. In Lives of Girls and Women, Munro explains through a character what she hopes to achieve in writing a work of fiction about small-town life in Ontario. The character works hard to portray not only what is actually “real” about the town, but what is meaningfully “true”. In order to do so she must capture the dull, ordinary simplicity of her neighbor’s daily lives. This character’s description of her efforts has often – and rightly—been used by critics to describe Munro’s own intentions as a writer: “what I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together – radiant, everlasting.” In “Nettles” we see evidence of Munro’s realistic technique: details that have been arranged and illuminated memorably. “Nettles” is one of Munro’s penetrating stories that have led to her being lauded as one of the finest living North American writers by critics and peers alike.

Although nearly all of Alive Munro’s fiction is set in southwestern Ontario, her reputation as a brilliant short-story writer goes far beyond the borders of her native Canada. Her accessible, moving stories offer immediate pleasures while simultaneously exploring the complexity and beauty of everyday life. This aspect of her writing is also demonstrated in her short story “Nettles”
Detailed Study of the Text

  1. Why does the author choose “nettles” as the title of the story?

    • nettle: (寻麻)any of a genus of annual and perennial weeds of the nettle family with stinging hairs that make the leaves rough. The verb nettle can be used metaphorically to mean “to irritate or to annoy”. The phrase “grasp the nettle” means dealing with an unpleasant or painful situation firmly and without delay.

    • Why does the author choose “nettles” as the title? What is the meaning? Let’s bear these questions in our minds while we read the story.

  2. What is the narrative structure of the story?

    • The author begins her story in a rather unusual way, and the plot of her story does not follow the normal chronological order. ①She starts her narration from 1979 in the brief beginning paragraph. But right after that ②she switches to “years afterward” in the second paragraph. ③and from paragraph 3 to paragraph 15 the tie is shifted to her childhood when she met and made friends with a boy called Mike. ④from paragraph 16 narrative is shifted back to 1979 in time. As one of critics puts it, “the most noticeable about her technique in this latest collection of short stories which includes “nettles” is the way her narratives rock back and forth in time. This allows her to infuse her stories with a sort of floating suspense, which falls halfway between the meandering spaciousness in novels and the epiphanies or shocking twists of more conventional short stories.”


  1. … I walked into the kitchen of my friend Sunny’s house near Uxbridge, Ontario, and was a man standing at the counter, making himself a ketchup sandwich.

    • Ontario: a province of south central Canada, between the Great Lakes and Hudson’s bay and neighboring the United States. The famous Niagara Falls lie on the border of the two countries. The falls are made up of two parts, the smaller one is one the US side, the larger one on the Canadian side. In 1998 when I was on a business trip to the States, I came to see the Falls. As we drove from the states to Canada, we came to the smaller fall first. From the distance, we already heard the thunder of the turbulent water. As it was already dark, we could not see it clearly but could feel the strong wind coming from the fall. The next morning, after admiring the fall on the US side, we crossed the border and were amazed to find that the fall we just admired is nothing to be compared with the bigger one on the Canadian side. To put it this way, if you want to have a panorama view of it, you have to occupy a high ground some hundred meters away. From time to time, clouds of water vapors rise up and envelop the fall. If you want to take pictures, you have to wait for the clouds to disappear and you have to wear raincoat if you want to get near to it. What amazed me most is not only the size of the fall, but also its crystal clear water and blue sky. That is the clearest water I have ever seen.


  1. In the countryside where I lived as a child, wells would occasionally go dry in the summer. This sentence brings the narrator’s memory back to the time when she was a child. The setting of this part of the story is the rural Ontario, the setting of most of her short stories. The part from paragraph 3 to paragraph 15 is narrated in a flashback, devoted to the narration of her childhood memories, her friendship with Mike. The descriptions of her childhood show that the narrator is very nostalgic. (恋旧)

  2. … we needed a good supply of water for our penned animals…

    • penned animals: domestic animals such as pigs, sheep, fowls, etc.

A pen is a small yard or enclosure for domestic animals.

To Pen: is to confine or enclose (animals) in a pen.


  1. Mike Mecallum had a son who lived with him in hotel rooms or boarding houses…

    • boarding house: a private house where you pay to sleep and eat 供膳食的寄宿处

  2. … went to whatever school at hand

    • at hand: near in space or time. Here meaning “available”

    • whatever school: public or private schools


  1. Mike and I climbed into the cab when it rained, and the rain washed down the windows and made a racket like stones on the roof.

    • cab: usually a taxi is called a cab in the North America. Here it refers to the part of a truck or bus in which the driver sits.

  2. The smell was of men – their work clothes and tools and tobacco and mucky boots and sour cheese socks.

    • mucky: (British) dirty, stained for example with mud or oil.

e.g. Coming home from play, the boy is mucky all over.

    • sour-cheese socks: socks that smell like sour-cheese, perhaps because the socks or even the feet have not been washed for some time. (袜子发出臭奶酪的气味)Your boys are familiar with that.

Sour cheese and sour cream are made sour by adding a kind of bacteria and they have a stronger smell than regular cream and cheese. For those who are not use to such food, they find the smell unpleasant.

  1. … the skunk turned and sprayed him.

    • skunk: a bushy-tailed animal, about the size of a house cat, commonly found in the North America. It can eject a foul-smelling, musky liquid when disturbed or frightened. (臭鼬) Once being sprayed with its liquid, the smell is hard to get rid of.

  2. My mother had to stop whatever she was doing and drive into town and get several large tins of tomato juice, and Mike persuaded Ranger to get into a tub and we poured the tomato juice over him and brushed it into his hair. It looked as if we were washing him in blood.

    • Whom the pronoun “him” refers to?--- right, him refers to her dog Ranger. It is common for westerners to use “he” or “she” when talking about their pet animals. (‘she’ dog, ‘he’ dog)

    • Why did the mother buy tomato juice?

From the text, we can guess that the tomato juice was used to clean the dog. Perhaps the juice could get rid of the foul-smelling, musky liquid the skunk had ejected on Ranger.

  1. Our farm was small-nine acres.

    • Nine acres are 54 mu. Owing to Canada’s vast land and small population, (Canada is the largest country in the world in terms of area and it has a population of 28 million, compared with 88 million in Henan province alone) a farm of this size is considered rather small.

  2. Each of the trees on the place had an attitude and presence --- the elm looked serene and oak threatening, the maples friendly, the hawthorn old and crabby.

    • In the eyes of the little girl, every tree existed like a person with distinct character and personality. In the previous sentence the narrator says that the farm was small enough for her to have explored every part of it. She was familiar with everything on the farm including the trees. The use of personification of the trees reveals the close and harmonious relationship between nature and the narrator, as well as the imagination of a child.


  1. The river in August was almost as much a stony road as it was a watercourse.

    • watercourse: a stream of water, river, brook.

    • … as much a stony road as it was a watercourse

In late summer seasonal dryness had shrunk the flow of water in the stream and so the watercourse became a stony road.


  1. … plowing through mats of flat-leafed water lilies, trapping our legs in their snaky roots.

    • plow: (plough). To plow (plough) through is to move with a lot of effort or force.


  1. They might have followed the boys out from town --- pretending not to follow --- or the boys might have come along after them, intending some harassment, but somehow when they all got together, this game had taken shape.

    • the subjunctive mood is used in this sentence for supposition, suggesting that the girl was not sure how the boys and girls got together, but she knew one way or another they all got together and made up this game of war.

    • … Pretending not to follow… (Why did those girls pretend not to follow boys?)

Because girls were generally shy and were not supposed to follow boys.

    • intend some harassment: intend to do some trick on the girls企图欺负她们

  1. They were good for only one throw.

    • good for only one throw: they could be used to throw once and then would be broken. (in a snow fight, each snowball is good for only one throw.)只能投一次


  1. … so that she could drag him away and dress his wounds as quickly as possible.

    • dress: to clean and cover a wound with a bandage

    • dress his wound: note the collocation here. 给他包扎伤口

  2. There was a keen alarm when the cry came, a wire zinging through your whole body, a fanatic felling of devotion.

    • “a wire zinging through your whole body” and “a fanatic feeling of devotion” are in apposition to “a keen alarm”, further explaining what this keen alarm was like.

    • Zing: an informal word, meaning to move quickly, making a whistling noise, like the running of current (过电)

  3. He lay lip and still while I pressed slimy large leaves to his forehead and throat and --- pulling out his shirt --- to his pale tender stomach, with its sweet and vulnerable belly button.

    • At this point of the game, the boy was supposed to be wounded, and by pressing slimy large leaves to his forehead, his throat and his stomach, the girl was pretending to dress his wounds.

    • Belly button: 肚脐


  1. The game disintegrated, after a long while, in arguments and mass resurrection.

    • After a long while, the game broke up with the children arguing, probably about which side had won, and those who were supposed to have been killed all came back to life again.

    • Resurrection: coming back to life. The Resurrection refers to the event of time when Jesus became alive again three days after his death. The occasion is celebrated on a Sunday in March or April known as Easter (复活节)


  1. One morning, of course, the job was all finished, the well capped, the pump reinstated, the fresh water marveled at.

    • “Of course” is used to mean that it was natural for the job to be finished one day. When the job was finished, Mike’s father would leave the farm and move on to another place for new jobs, and Mike would of course leave with his father. The implied meaning of “of course” is that the girl had known this would happen sooner or later, but had no idea what it meant to her. (Perhaps she wished that the time spent on the work would be prolonged so that Mike would not have to leave so soon. She had not expected his departure would come so soon.)

    • Cap: to cover the top or end of sth, here to put a cover on the well.

  2. There were two fewer chairs at the table for the noon meal.

    • 中午吃饭时餐桌边少了两张椅子。

  3. he liked to put ketchup on his bread

    • The girl noticed this unusual eating habit of Mike’s and remembered it. So when she “saw a man standing at the counter, making himself a ketchup sandwich”, in 1979, many years after they departed, she recognized him at once.

  4. … the talk was mostly about wells, accidents, water tables.

    • water table: the level below the surface of the ground where there is water. (地下水位 not 水表 water meter)

  5. The laugh had a lonely boom in it, as if he were still down the well.

    • boom: a deep, hollow, resonant sound


  1. He had other jobs lined up elsewhere…

    • He had other jobs waiting for him to do in other places

  2. How all my own territory would be altered, as if a landslide had gone through it and skimmed off all meaning except loss of Mike.

    • The implied meaning of the sentence is that the impact of Mike’s leaving on my life was beyond my imagination. I didn’t expect that Mike’s leaving would have such a tremendous power that it would change the meaning of my existence completely. All my thoughts were about loss of Mike. (I went blank yet there was one thing in my mind, that is, Mike had gone.)


  1. A common name

    • This is an elliptical sentence. The complete sentence would be: Mike was a common name.

  2. A stupid flat-faced child with dirty blond hair.

    • Another elliptical sentence. The complete sentence would be: that boy was a stupid flat-faced child with dirty blond hair.

  3. My heart was beating in big thumps, like howls happening in my chest.

    • howl: the long loud cry of wolves or dogs.

    • I was so excited that my heart was pounding violently as if my chest was bursting with long loud cries.

    • This is a vivid description of how one feel in excitement. You are recommended to remember them and use them in your own writing.


  1. How is the time shifted in Paragraph 16?

    • In this paragraph the time is shifted to that of the first paragraph: in 1979 the narrator was invited by her friend Sunny to spend a weekend with her family in Uxbridge.

  2. Even when she put on weight --- which she had done--- she looked not matronly but majestically girlish.

    • matronly: adj. having the characteristics of a matron ( an older married woman, especially one with a dignified appearance)

After women get married and have some kids, they usually look more matured and confident. That is what ‘matronly’ refers to.


  1. How is the time shifted again in this paragraph?

    • The narration moves back a few years to when the narrator and Sunny were friends in Vancouver. (It is natural to recall the past when you meet an old friend again, right?)

  2. Our pregnancies had dovetailed, so that we had managed with one set of maternity clothes.

    • to dovetail: to fit perfectly together

    • Pregnancy is a special period of time for us women. In pregnancy, our figure change greatly. We grow heavy and clumsy and special clothes are needed. It would be uneconomical if each of us buys new clothes since they are no longer needed afterwards. Therefore, we just borrow others’ clothes. For instance, my elder sister has kept her clothes for me and I’ve left mine to my sister-in-law.

  3. In my kitchen or in hers, once a week or so, distracted by our children and sometimes reeling for lack of sleep, we stoked ourselves up on strong coffee and cigarettes and launched out on a rampage of talk—about our marriage, our fights, our personal deficiencies, our interesting and discreditable motives, and our forgone ambitions.

    • reel for lack of sleep: to feel dizzy, having a sensation of spinning or whirling, because of lack of sleep.

    • …stoked ourselves up on strong coffee and cigarettes…

stoke up: to eat large quantities of food, here means seeking energy by drinking many cups of coffee and smoking cigarettes.

    • rampage: an outbreak of violent or raging behavior

    • a rampage of talk: a talk that lasts long and covers a wide range of topics (天南海北地神聊)

    • discreditable: damaging to one’s reputation or status. Here means topics that are not decent enough or small talks between intimate friends.

    • Foregone: that has gone before; previous; former

  1. We read Jung at the same time and tried to keep track of our dreams.

    • For Carl Gustav Jung, read Note 2 to the text. His theory emphasizes that humankind shares a common and inborn unconscious life expressed in dreams, fantasies, and myths. The narrator and her friend Sunny tried to keep track of their dreams in an attempt to interpret them according to Jung’s theory.

  2. During that time of life that is supposed to be a reproductive daze, with the woman’s mind all swamped by maternal juices, we were still compelled to discuss Simone de Beauvoir and Arthur koestler and “The Cocktail Party”.

    • daze: being stupefied or bewildered often by a shock or blow

    • reproductive daze: the phrase describes the stupefying and confusing condition that young mothers are typically supposed to be in. Since these two young mothers continued to discuss literary and intellectual matters, the stereotype is called into question.

    • Swamped: flooded

    • Simone De Beauvoir, Arthur Koestler and Cocktail Party: see note 3-5

    • The implied meaning of the sentence is that as young mothers, we were supposed to lead a terribly busy and sometimes confused or bewildered life brought about by giving birth to and raising babies, and our minds were supposed to be fully occupied by how to feed the babies and things like that. However, in the midst of all this we still felt the need to discuss some of the important thinkers of our time like Simone De Beauvoir and Arthur Koestler and T.S.Eliot’s sophisticated verse play “The Cocktail Party”.

(They were well-educated intellectual women. They had spiritual pursuit and could hardly be satisfied with a life of housewives.)

  1. What is the main idea of Paras.20-26?

    • In Paras.20-26 the narration returns to 1979 when she spent the weekend at Sunny’s county home. First she explains the different reasons for which they had moved away from Vancouver. Then the narrator talks about her unsuccessful marriage and her problems with her children, which lead her to phone Sunny and get the invitation to spend the weekend with the latter’s family.


  1. And I had moved for the newfangled reason that was approved of only in some special circles--- leaving husband and house and all the things acquired during the marriage (except of course, the children, who were to be parceled about), in the hope of making a life that could be lived without hypocrisy or deprivation or shame.

    • The tone of this sentence is slightly ironic. The word “newfangled” is a humorously derogatory term, meaning newly made, new, novel, untested. “Some special circles” refer to feminists and their sympathizers and supporters. The more conservative social values and attitudes do not approve of women leaving their husbands and houses, and would consider doing so as newfangled in a negative sense.

    • Husband and house: without articles before them the two words function as collective nouns for the normal acquisitions associated with marriage. In addition they alliterate, making them more memorable.


  1. … a long necessary voyage from the house of marriage.

    • the house of marriage: what do people, especially women, get from a marriage?--- a house to live in, a home, right? Here, the author uses a metaphor, comparing marriage to a house. A house or a home is a place that provides shelter, living space, etc. On the other hand, such a house can be a sort of confinement, hindering one’s freedom.

    • …为摆脱婚姻的禁锢而必须踏上的漫长旅程。

  2. But it was too much to expect of my daughters--- who were ten and twelve years old---that they should feel the same way.

    • I accept this totally different and unfamiliar environment, for this made me feel that I made a true change and made a clean break from the past. But it would be too much if I expected my young daughters to feel the way I did. (They are too young to understand their mother and to accept a totally different life.)


  1. at last a blowup

    • This is an incomplete sentence. A complete sentence would be: at last there was a blowup. At first the girls tried hard not to complain. But at last they could not put up with living like that any more, and they had an angry outburst.

    • Blowup: an angry outburst

  2. Accusations, confessions of misery..

    • This is another incomplete (elliptical) sentence. In their angry outburst, the girls admitted that they were miserable and blamed their mother for causing their misery.


  1. … I would be frightened, not of any hostility but of a kind of nonexistence.

    • I was not frightened of the hostility. Rather I was frightened of a kind of nonexistence.

Whose hostility? --- the hostility of my neighbors. They were quarreling and fighting

Whose nonexistence? --- the nonexistence of the author. She led a lonely life. Compared with her neighbor’s noisy and violent way of life, her life seemed too quiet. She had no one to quarrel with. It seems that she was forgotten by everyone and that she did not exist.

  1. What does the author tell us in the part from para.27 to para.93?

    • This is the main part of the story, in which the author tells what happened during the weekend she spent with Sunny’s family in the country.


  1. She did not ask me --- was it delicacy or disapproval? --- about my new life.

    • delicacy or disapproval: alliteration

    • delicacy: a sensitive diplomacy or, sometimes, finicky distaste for what is considered improper or offensive

    • She did not ask about my new life, either out of subtle consideration for my feeling about this sensitive subject (she was careful not to embarrass me) or out of her disapproval for my new life style.

    • Why didn’t Sunny ask about the author’s life?

When old friends meet, they usually ask about each other’s lives. But Sunny didn’t. The narrator guessed this was either because Sunny already knew something about her and thought this was a sensitive subject and therefore tried to avoid it or because she disapproved of the author’s new life and therefore didn’t want to hear about it/ had no interest in knowing the details.

  1. I would have told her lies, anyway, or half lies.

    • Sunny didn’t ask me about my life. If she had asked me, I wouldn’t have told her the truth --- not the whole truth anyway, and I would have to lie or half-lie to her. This shows that the two friends were no longer as intimate as they had been before. It perhaps is because they have two different attitudes towards marriage and have taken two different roads of life. They used to share a lot in their lives when they were younger, but now Sunny remains a typical wife and mother, that is, she has given up her ambition and accept the life as it is. In contrast, the narrator has abandoned everything in order to pursue her dreamed life, a life “without hypocrisy, deprivation or shame”. Her choice would be considered rather unconventional in the eyes of many people, perhaps including her friend Sunny. This parting of the ways prepares for their later “dwindling friendship” mentioned in the last paragraph of the story.

  2. It was hard to make the break…

    • In paragraph 20 the narrator mentions that in the hope of making a life that could be lived without hypocrisy or deprivation or shame, she left husband and house and all the things acquired during the marriage except the intermittent care for the children.


  1. Sunny picked her up and I took up my overnight bag and we walked into the kitchen…

    • overnight bag: a bag for a brief trip. It is a common practice in the west that people bring their own beddings and personal necessities when they visit a friend’s family and stay overnight.

  2. … where Mike McCallum was spreading ketchup on a piece of bread.

    • This sentence echoes with the opening sentence of the story: “ I walked into the kitchen of ….”


  1. … we said, almost in the same breath.

    • almost in the same breath: 几乎异口同声地说


  1. of all things

    • “of all things” here is used to show that you are surprised or shocked by something that someone has done or said.

    • 真没想到!


  1. … to our way of thinking really more of a miracle.

    • 在我们看来真是个奇迹。


  1. … I was full of happy energy

    • The word “happy” is transferred epithet. Though used before the noun “energy”, it actually modifies “I”. The sentence means I was full of energy because I felt so happy.


  1. We were washing dishes together, so that we could talk all we wanted without being rude.

    • You know, they were old friends and had parted for so many years. It is natural for them to feel excited about their reunion. They must be eager to learn about each other. However, it would be rude of them if they talked to each other only, ignoring the host and hostess and leaving them out of the conversation. But, when they were washing dishes in the kitchen, they could talk all they wanted without being socially impolite.


  1. We looked for the pilot Star, close beside the second star in the handle of he Big Dipper

    • dipper: a long-handled spoon

    • the Big Dipper: a dipper-shaped group of stars in the constellation Ursa Major (大熊星座的北斗七星)


  1. Why does the narrator ask a series of questions in this paragraph?

    • This paragraph contains a series of questions the narrator asked herself. They reveal what was going on in her mind while she was watching the stars. Standing near Mike in the darkness, she felt sexually aroused and wanted to be intimate with Mike, but she was not sure if that was what he also wanted. She concluded that he was a scrupulous man and that he would refrain even if he also felt sexually attracted to her.

  2. I had the feeling, however, that he was a scrupulous man, he would refrain.


  1. … he’d moved downstairs to the fold-out sofa in the front room

    • fold-out sofa: a sofa which could be unfold to be a bed折叠沙发床

  2. Sunny had given him fresh sheets rather than unmaking and making up again the bed he had left for me.

    • make up the bed: to prepare a bed and make it ready for use 铺床

    • unmake the bed: 叠被

    • Sunny had given him clean sheets instead of taking away used bed sheets from his bed and spreading clean sheets over the bed for me.


  1. and after all he’s an old friend

    • Sunny means “I hope you won’t mind the sheets he has used as he is an old friend of yours.”


  1. Lying in those same sheets did not make for a peaceful night.

    • I could no sleep peacefully that night as I was lying in the sheets Mike had used the previous night. Apparently she was disturbed by her sexual desire for Mike and a sense of uncertainty of her own desire.

  2. I knew that he wouldn’t come to me, no matter how small the risk was.

    • I knew that he wouldn’t come to my bed, though there was little risk for people to find us out. It is the same thing as saying that he was a scrupulous man.

  3. It would be a sleazy thing to do, in the house of his friends.

    • sleazy: morally low, indecent

    • It would be morally low thing to have an extra-marital affair in the house of his friends.

  4. My sleep was shallow, my dreams monotonously lustful, with irritating and unpleasant subplots.

    • lustful: feeling or showing strong sexual desire

    • subplot: a plot or a set of events that is less important than and separate from the main plot in the story

    • This shows that she didn’t sleep peacefully that night. She was still thinking about Mike as she had while watching the stars. At night, her longing for him intensified.

  5. … a perfect waterfall of noise

    • This is metaphor. (continuous and loud) Noise is like a waterfall

    • 蟋蟀发出的如瀑布般的叫声。


  1. “Well, I don’t know if I …”

    • This incomplete sentence shows the narrator’s hesitation to accept the invitation for the brunch. She would rather go to the golf course with Mike but was afraid of being rude to the hosts by saying “No”.


  1. Still, you could come and caddy for me

    • caddy: (also caddie) to carry golf clubs for someone who is playing golf

    • Though you don’s play golf, you could come and carry the golf club bag for me.

    • This remark is as good as an invitation from Mike.


  1. … we’d take our chances.

    • take a chance / chances: to do something that involves risks

e.g. after losing $20,000 on my last business venture, I’m not taking any chance this time.

    • We’d take the risk. 我们想碰碰运气

  1. .. I liked riding beside him, in the wife’s seat.

    • The front seat beside the driver is usually taken by the wife when the husband is driving. So sitting in the wife’s seat the narrator felt a pleasure in the idea of them as a couple, indulging herself in a womanly emotional fantasy. (she was dreaming.)

  2. … a pleasure that I knew was as light-headed as an adolescent girl’s.

    • light-headed: not able to think clearly; not sensible, flighty; frivolous轻浮的,轻薄的


  1. … they don’t bother with Canadian.

    • Here Mike was complaining about foreigners who don’t bother to make a distinction between Americans and Canadians. The Canadians are annoyed when they are taken for Americans. They like to think of themselves as being different from the Americans, as having their own identity. (To me, Canadians are more easy-going and more considerate. They like more secluded life. You know, there are many Chinese in Toronto, most of them are people from Hong Kong. Before 1997, many rich people immigrated there and made investment on real estate business. As those immigrants come in, the local people are moving away to outskirts of the city. To help those new comers get used to their new life, the government has set up many language schools to train them free of charge. And phone services are given in two languages, English and Cantonese. The most interesting thing is that in the downtown area, I found a big sign in old-style Chinese character “警察局”. So, you see, they are more considerate.)


  1. No sympathetic word, no encouragement.

    • Again this is an incomplete sentence. When the narrator said she missed her children, Mike didn’t say a single sympathetic word or encourage her to go on talking about her children. This is unusual. The narrator wondered why he did not, but his reticence prepares for her own silence later and suggests that there is something special about the way they relate to each other.

  2. It might be that he thought it unseemly to talk of our partners or our children, under the circumstances.

    • unseemly: not decent, improper不适宜

    • Under the circumstances: used to say that a particular situation makes an action, decision necessary when it would not normally be. Pay attention to the plural form of the noun “circumstance” and the use of the definite article “the” before the noun.


  1. … to pay the visitor’s fee.

    • a member of a golf club pays a membership fee, usually annually. A visitor has to pay a fee before he plays golf.


  1. .. some of the clubs were called irons and that the course itself was called the links.

    • club: a special stick used in golf to hit the ball; golf club

    • irons: a set of numbered golf clubs with metal heads having various lofts

    • links: (pl) a golf course, especially one along the sea


  1. “Here comes our weather.”

    • Before they set out for the golf course, Johnston warned them that there was a prediction of rain. But they said they would take their chances. As the rain was coming, Mike called it “our weather”.

  2. He began methodically to pack up and fasten his bag.

    • Because golf clubs were of various sizes, he began methodically pack up them, that is, to put them in the bag in good order. Also the word “methodically” shows that Mike was calm, not in a hurry, without particular alarm as he said that the rain was coming.

  3. How does the author describe the storm in the part from para.71 to 76?

    • In this part, the author describes a big storm the two main characters went through on the golf course. The author doesn’t tell but shows with vivid and specific details how violent the storm was. These descriptions of the storm serve as an important element of the whole story. The two of them who survived the storm together felt even closer. As readers, we know that something will happen between the man and the woman now.


  1. The tops of the trees were swaying and there was a sound—it seemed to be above us—like the sound of a wave full of stones, crashing on the beach.

    • The author uses specific details of the swaying tree tops and the sound of crashing waves to describe the coming of the storm.


  1. The bushes right at the edge of the grass looked impenetrable, but close up there were little openings, the narrow paths that animals or people looking for golf balls had made.

    • 紧挨着草地边上的灌木从看上去似乎无法穿过,但走近了可以看到一些小缺口和窄窄的小径,这是动物或找高尔夫球的人们踩出来的。

  2. … and what I thought were flowering nettles with pinkish-purple clusters, and wild asters.

    • The narrator mistook these plants as nettles. Later in para.91 she corrects herself, “I have since discovered that they are called joe-pye weed…”

  3. … from the direction of the midnight clouds.

    • This is a metaphor. These clouds were very dark, the color of the midnight. Note that earlier in para.70 the narrator has said “the clouds had changed color, becoming dark blue instead of white.” The changing of colors of the clouds indicated that a wild storm was coming.

  4. It looked as if a large portion of the sky had detached itself and was bearing down, bustling and resolute, taking a not quite recognizable but animate shape.

    • bear down: to move quickly towards someone in a threatening way

    • bustling:

  5. Curtains of rain—not veils but really thick and wildly slapping curtains—were driven ahead of it. We could see them distinctly, when all we were feeling were light, lazy drops.

    • As the golf course was a vast open space, the two of htem could see clearly how weather was changing and how the storm was coming to them step by step.

  6. … my hair was lifted and fanned out above my head.

    • This is one of the many vivid details that show the terrible force of the storm. Some of the other examples are: “it was hard enough to stand up—out in the open the wind would have knocked you down at once.” (para.73) “he said something, right into my face, but I couldn’t hear him.” (para.74) “big tree branches had been hurled all over the golf course.” (para.76)


  1. Stooping, butting his head through the weeds and against the wind, Mike got around in front of me, all the time holding on to my arm.

    • butt: to push against something or someone with your head

    • … Mike got around in front of me..

By doing so Mike was protecting the narrator from the storm with his own body. Later, “he faced me, with his body between me and the storm.”

  1. … the miniature rivers already breaking up the earth around our feet.

    • miniature: on or done on a very small scale; diminutive, minute

In the World Park are displayed all the famous architectures in miniature form.

    • Break up: to disperse, to scatter


  1. Our shirts and slacks were stuck fast to our bodies.

    • fast: firm, fixed, not easily removed

    • 我们的衬衫和裤子紧紧地贴在身上

  2. This was more of a ritual, a recognition of survival rather than of our bodies’ inclinations.

    • ritual: a set form or system of rite, religious or otherwise; here meaning a gesture

    • inclination: a particular disposition or bent of mind; tendency; a more or less vague mental disposition toward some action, practice, or thing

    • In this sentence, the author makes a distinction between the spiritual and the bodily. At night, when they were watching the stars and when she was lying in bed, she was disturbed by sexual desire. During the storm, the two were holding each other tightly, but they did that to protect themselves form the terrible storm. Now they kissed and pressed together because they had just survived a devastating storm, a dangerous situation. They kissed and embraced as a gesture to celebrate their survival. At that moment, lust that had disturbed her in the night gave away to this sense of togetherness. We can see that in a sense, the rain had washed away the lust and purified her mind, thus purifying their relationship, too.


  1. I felt the heat of the sun strike my shoulders before I looked up into its festival light.

    • The sun and its light are in sharp contrast with the “midnight clouds”, “curtains of rain”, “thick and wildly slapping curtains”, etc. the sunlight is “festival”, celebrating the ending of the wild storm and the survival of the two main characters.


  1. Now was the time, when we were soaked and safe and confronted with radiance. Now something had to be said.

    • What did the narrator expect they would say to each other at this moment? Did she want to say something to express her love for Mike? Did she expect Mike to say the same thing to her? Would they congratulate each other on surviving the terrible storm? As the story goes on, Mike did say something. But was that what she had in mind?


  1. His voice surprised me, like the sun. but in the opposite way.

    • Right after the storm was over, the sun came out suddenly, with its cheerful light, and so it surprised the narrator pleasantly. Now Mike said something in a voice that also surprised her, but in the opposite way. This “opposite way” is explained in the next sentence.

  2. It had a weight to it, a warning—determination edged with apology.

    • The weight and warning in his voice told the narrator what he was going to tell her was not happy news. So he surprised her in the opposite way.

    • …determination edged with apology..

It must be hard for him to make the decision to tell her the truth. As he made up his mind, he sounded apologetic. He seemed to say “I know how you feel and what you want. I feel the same, but I can’t because …”


  1. oh

    • This paragraph contains only one single word “oh”. “Oh” has no definite meaning, but is an exclamation expressing surprise, fear, wonder, pain, etc. this “oh” may mean different things, depending on the reader’s imagination and interpretations.

What is your interpretation of this word?

It may mean: “Oh, my god, what a terrible thing!” or it may mean: “Oh, now I see why you have behaved the way like that.”


  1. backing out of our driveway

    • 从车道里把车倒出去


  1. What is this paragraph about?

    • In this paragraph, the narrator was imaging what had happened after Mike found that he had run over his child. In this way the author doesn’t have to make Mike tell this part of the story.


  1. And I did not say anything --- not one kind, common, helpless word.

    • The narrator was shocked by what Mike had told her: the death of a three-year old son, run over by his father’s car. What else could have been more cruel and tragic than this? We remember how she missed her own daughters after they left her. She said: “there were miseries I could bear—those connected with men. And other miseries—those connected with children—that I could not.” (para.24) she understood what a tremendous and unspeakable misery Mike must have endured. This is kind pain that could not be comforted with any language. Any kind words she might try to say to comfort him would seem trivial and pale compared to what he had been through.

  2. We had passed right by that.

    • By these words, the narrator means they were not ordinary friends but soul mates. As they understood each other perfectly, no words were needed at this moment.


  1. I knew now that he was a person who had hit rock bottom.

    • rock bottom: the lowest level or point

    • This is a vivid way of saying that he was a person who had experienced the worst in life, the hardest experience a person might have to endure.

  2. He and his wife knew that together and it bound them, as something like that would either break you apart or bind you, for life.

    • He and his wife experienced the worst together and knew the meaning of that experience. Experience of that kind, involving life and death, posed the gravest test to people. If they could stand the test and emerged from the worst together, their marriage would be strengthened, and a sacred bondage would be formed between them. But if they failed the test, their relationship would be broken and would be driven apart.

  3. But they would share a knowledge of it—that cool, empty, locked, and central space.

    • The implied meaning of the sentence is that they both understood what that terrible experience was like and what it meant to them. Note the use of the four adjectives before the word “space”, which refers to the rock bottom. The word “cool” (or cold) may be associated with death, tragedy and sorrow; the word “empty” indicates a sense of loss (hollow); “locked” implies secret, private, not open to others; “central” perhaps means this experience was essential to their lives.


  1. I was a person who knew—that was all. A person he had, on his own, who knew.

    • These words mean that the narrator was different from all other people in his life. She was the only person whom he could trust and confine his deepest secrets to, and therefore, the person who could understand him. She was his soul mate.


  1. What is this paragraph about?

    • This paragraph is essential for understanding the meaning of the title. While they were driving back, Mike and the narrator noticed an itch or burning on their bare forearms, the backs of their hands and around their ankles. She remembered the nettles. But the plants with big pinkish-purple flowers are not nettles. They are called Joe-pye weeds. The nettles are stinging insignificant-looking plants with stalks outfitted with skin-piecing spines. Her mistaking joe-pye weeds for nettles implies that ordinary life is more like the insignificant-looking nettles that are stinging and piercing, thus irritating and annoying people rather than the joe-pye weeds with showy pinkish-purple flowers. Real life is disturbing, frustrating, and unsettling, offering no tidy resolution.


  1. Claire especially was delighted with the sight of our naked, foolish, adult feet.

    • Children like to run about barefooted. If they see an adult in their naked feet, they will find the sight foolish and funny.


  1. It would be the same old thing, if we ever me again.

    • The meaning of “the same old thing” is explained in the next few sentences.

  2. Love that was not usable, that knew its place.

    • The sentence means that love was not an object that could be used or be made use of; and we knew exactly the limits of our love and would not displace it. Where is its place?—in the heart, the innermost corner of their heart.

  3. Not risking a thing yet staying alive as a sweet trickle, an underground resource.

    • … as a sweet trickle, an underground resource..

    • The narrator uses a metaphor here. She compares their love with a sweet trickle of underground water. These words bring us all the way back to the beginning of the story which the narrator talked about the family’s new well. In paragraph 3 the girl said: “… from the time on we could pump out pure cold water no matter what time of the year and no matter how dry the weather was. There was a tin mug hanging on the pump, and when I drank from it, on a burning day, I thought of black rocks where the water ran sparkling like black diamonds.” Just as a sweet trickle could nourish the dry land and quench dry lips, their love, always sweet and refreshing, as precious as black

  4. With the weight of this new stillness on it, this seal.

    • This new stillness, this seal: ‘this new stillness refers’ to the silence between the narrator and Mike, they said nothing about their love to each other. Could you feel the weight of silence? ( For instance, if you did something wrong, and your parents scolded you, you would feel relieved. But, if your parents said nothing about your misdeed, you would feel unease. That is the weight of silence.)

The stillness is just like a seal which preserves the love and prevents it from an outburst.

    • Here again the narrator uses a metaphor. She compares her love for Mike to a well. Remember in para.12, the narrator said: “… the well capped…” just as it was necessary to put a cap on the well to keep the water clean and fresh, it was also necessary to have the weight of this new stillness as a seal on their underground resource of love.

  1. What is the main idea of para.94? is it an important part of the whole story?

    • Yes, it is important.

    • Like some of Munro’s other stories, this one ends with the narrator’s epiphany, a moment of sudden intuitive understanding, or a flash of insight. It is part of the author’s style to search for some revelatory gesture by which an event is illuminated and given personal significance. What happened, or rather what did not happen between Mike and her gave her a new perception of love. This is the theme of the story. The event that took place during that weekend may not seem very special or exciting, but through it the author explores the complexity of human emotions and the beauty of ordinary life.


  1. …during all the years of our dwindling friendship

    • dwindling: fading away, diminishing

    • …在我们的友谊逐渐淡化的那些岁月里

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