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“The Red Dress” by Alice Munroe


“The Red Dress” is a short story by Alice Munroe, published in 1946. The tale is told from the point of view of a young girl who goes to high school and lives with her mother, who sews outfits for her daughter. The purpose of this paper is to provide a summary of the first three paragraphs of “The Red Dress” and analyze the characters and emotions introduced within it.

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The Summary of the Beginning of “The Red Dress”

Despite the main character being the narrator herself, the story starts by mentioning the character’s mother, as she would routinely sew by the window in the kitchen while overlooking the passersby. There is a summary of the parent’s tailoring style and taste in clothes compared to other relatives as the former typically pursues “brave and dazzling ideas” she finds hard to execute (Munro, 1979, p. 8). The narrator reminisces some of the outfits that she would wear as a child “while unaware of the world’s opinion” (Munro, 1979, p. 8). With this in mind, the character laments the lack of dresses that would be similar to that of her friend Lonnie in her wardrobe. The aforementioned pal would sometimes come over to the main character’s house, where the mother would become a cause for embarrassment for the narrator with her depleting looks and obscene actions. The character notes that Lonnie would react to everything with “a composed, polite, appreciative expression” reserved for adults whom she would later slander behind their backs (Munro, 1979, p. 8). The first three paragraphs of “The Red Dress” conclude at this point.

The Characters of “The Red Dress”

The Narrator

Since “The Red Dress” is written in the first person, there is no description of the narrator’s looks or personality, so the reader has to infer them from the story itself. It is suggested that the character comes from a low-income family as their house is mentioned to be located near “stubble fields and bare vegetable gardens” where one seldom sees visitors (Munro, 1979, p. 8). This is further supported by the fact that the narrator’s mother has to sew clothes for her daughter, who wishes to have outfits from branded stores. In the first paragraphs, there is a memory of a simpler time where the main character was unaffected by the opinions of others. However, at the moment of the narration, she is dependent on the image she projects to the rest of the world, leading her to be embarrassed by her mother and the clothes she sews.

The Narrator’s Mother

As mentioned in the previous section, the first paragraphs of “The Red Dress” go into more detail about the mother than they do about the character. Considering the implied monetary situation and the fact that the story was published in 1946, it is fair to assume that this is a single-parent family. However, while sewing clothes is most likely a solution to financial problems, the narrator points out that this was also a hobby for her mother as she “liked to make things” (Munro, 1979, p. 8). The parent prefers bold designs and patterns that she finds hard to execute due to her limited skill set in the area. Additionally, there is an interesting juxtaposition between the easily-embued daughter and the mother who does not feel any particular shame over her appearance or living situation.


The first paragraphs of “The Red Dress” do not go into much detail about the characters, their living situation, or the relationships between them, instead, focusing on descriptions of specific incidents. However, the author does an excellent job of conveying all the essential facets of this family’s life through those means. It is particularly fascinating that the central theme of clothes and the characters’ interaction with it can reflect the life of these two women so well in only three paragraphs.


Munro, A. (1979). The red dress. Rites of Passage, pp. 8-19.

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