The Quest for Insight and Empathy in Alice Munro’s Stories of Dementia

by Maria Micaela Coppola

Alice Munro’s dementia stories provide narrative tools for illuminating otherwise
impenetrable brain territories and for gaining insight into and empathising
with mental illness. The protagonists of “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”
and of “In Sight of the Lake” set out on a quest for insight, involving
readers in the process, who can narratively explore cognitive deterioration
from two different perspectives (internal and external). In “The Bear Came
Over the Mountain” we can access the ‘Alzheimer’s mind’ from the point of
view of Grant, who bears witness to his wife’s illness; in “In Sight of the Lake”
readers witness the protagonist’s progressive cognitive decline. The processes
of reading and comprehending throw light on the Alzheimer’s mind, and
show readers the connections between acts of seeing and understanding, and
acts of caring and empathy.