Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Story, Summary, Review

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage is a short story written by Alice Munro. This story was published in a book of the same name which contained a few other short stories by Munro. This story revolves around the life of Johanna, a plain-looking, poor but a dedicated unmarried woman. She works for Mr McCauley, a reticent old man known in the community.

“Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” – this remarkable piece from Canadian Nobel Prize Laureate Alice Munro is a short story that lets you peek into the lives of her characters –almost all of them humane, flawed and endearing.

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Summary and Plot Analysis

Mr McCauley has a granddaughter Sabitha who has now moved to a big city, taken in by her aunt Roxanne. Sabitha’s mother Marcelle has deceased a long time ago and her father Ken Boudreau, having changed jobs multiple times, is on the verge of bankruptcy and currently lives in Saskatchewan. Johanna is the housekeeper and takes care of Sabitha.

Sabitha’s closest friend is Edith, who is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs.Schulz, owner of a shoe shop in the city and friends of Mr McCauley.

The story starts with Johanna arriving at the train station to enquire about shipping furniture from Ontario to an address in Saskatchewan, she also enquires about the journey there and finalizes her tickets. Her exchanges with the station master are curt, and he considers the journey as well as the shipment pretty uncharacteristic.

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage book cover
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage book cover

She then goes on to shop for a fancy dress, which she considers rather expensive, and later tells the store person about it being her possible wedding dress. She rushes back home, leaves a letter for Mr.McCauley and leaves the house for her trip to Gdynia in Saskatchewan.

Johanna likes Sabitha but doesn’t like her friend Edith much, because Edith seems too clever for her taste. She gets to meet Ken Boudreau, McCauley’s son in law when he comes down to meet his daughter.

Ken frequently reaches out to Mr.McCauley for financial assistance. The most recent instance was when he asked Mr. McCauley to sell his own furniture and lend him some money. Mr.Mccauley, irked by this, disregarded the request altogether.

Sabitha and Edith, close friends in their early teens – in one of their characteristic naïve conversations, come up with an idea of forging love letters from Ken Boudreau to Johanna.

Having been shown interest from a man, which she seldom gets, Johanna starts to respond to the forged letters, and the girls keep forging letters from Ken. With each progressive exchange between Johanna and the girls posing as Ken, the messages become more and more personal and intimate.

Johanna ultimately decides to help Ken by shipping the furniture and running away to be with him but didn’t write a letter to Ken to inform him of this.

Johanna finally makes her way to Ken, who lives in what seems to be a dilapidated construction in the middle of nowhere.

Ken, down with a terrible cough aggravated by his intense smoking habits, is unable
to notice or question her unannounced arrival.

Johanna takes charge of the situation – she sets up the place and devotedly nurses Ken back to health. As he gets better, he thinks of having a conversation with her about her sudden and unexpected appearance in his life, but looking at the money that she has brought with her – decides against it.

Impressed by Johanna’s resolve, substantial savings and meticulous approach – all of which he lacks – Ken surrenders to her will.

Several years later Edith comes to know that Ken and Johanna are married and have a kid.

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Review

This is a fantastic short story for several reasons:

1 – ‘Human’ characters

The characters in her story are so amazingly ‘human’; all flawed yet intriguing. Who would not respect a person in control of their life, a person that makes things happen – our Johanna did a great job at that.

Sabitha – just another directionless adolescent, not very clear about what she wants but doesn’t much care for it either.

Ken – a person who cannot flourish without someone guiding and assisting them throughout, sometimes even to the extent of being a parasite.

2 – Plain adults and cunning children

I absolutely loved how the adults and children were portrayed in the story – Johanna, dedicated and meticulous and having lived a hard life, immediately succumbs to the feeling of love, easily trapped by a child’s prank. So much so that she completely went on a different path in her life- something she would never have imagined.

Even while I was reading the story, I was heartbroken in the anticipation that Ken
will break her heart. Lo and Behold! They actually marry and are a happy couple. The power that Munro gave to the child’s prank is humbling.

3 – Ego

McCauley’s transformation after the ‘smell of betrayal’ is so real. Shown initially as a very reticent guy, mostly apathetic to the things happening around him, he completely transforms into a bantering old man; people couldn’t recognize this man (“something’ has gotten into him”).

And all because a housekeeper left, the one that he could not recall the age or build of. I am amazed at the power ego exercises and Munro has done justice to this monster in her work here.

4 – Superbly titled story

When I first picked up the story I read the title of the story multiple times to understand what it might mean. In addition, to be a mouthful to speak, it had a certain childish ring to it- an endearing one at that.

Only when I read the story did I realize that growing up we played a variation of that too! I quickly drifted to my childhood days where games like that made dollops of sense. I believe any writer who can have you traverse through your own life reading their words- is a force to reckon.

While accepting her Nobel Prize, Alice Munro remarked, “I want my stories to move people”… and move she does, with this gem of a story!


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