Runaway

by

Alice Munro

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Flora Symbol Icon

Flora symbolizes the freedom and independence that are unattainable to Carla. Munro draws a very clear parallel between Flora and Carla—both are “runaways,” and just as Flora left home but eventually returned to Clark, so did Carla. When Clark first brings Flora home, she is like “a guileless girl in love,” which is exactly how Carla first acted towards Clark when they met. Flora used to follow Clark around just as Carla followed him to live together in the countryside. But Flora’s attachment to Clark is short-lived, and she quickly matures and becomes more independent. Flora’s personality after she’s matured is portrayed as completely autonomous, and even all-knowing. Whereas the horses are enclosed in a pen, Flora has free run of the barn. Flora is “wise” and looks at Carla with “comradely mockery” when Carla feels trapped and dejected, implying that Flora understands the situation and has somehow escaped or risen above it herself. When Flora disappears, Clark says that she may have left to find a male to mate with, revealing his anxiety that Carla will become mature and autonomous like Flora, and that this might lead to Carla leaving him for another man.

Carla’s dreams about Flora in the wake of the goat’s disappearance are particularly illustrative as to Flora’s significance. In the first dream Flora is holding an apple in her mouth, which is an allusion to the Genesis story in the Bible. This imagery likens Flora to Eve, who seeks to gain knowledge and wisdom by taking the forbidden fruit. Flora is the wise and knowledgeable one in this story, and she ends up suffering the consequences of it, just as Adam and Eve do. In this case, Clark is the powerful and controlling force who forbids freedom and independence. Even Flora’s white color, symbolizing purity, and her name, referring to plant-life (like the garden of Eden), contribute to the development of the biblical symbolism. In Carla’s next dream, Flora runs to a fence and escapes underneath it, leaving Carla behind, and thus solidifying the idea of Flora representing an ideal of freedom and independence—she is able to go where Carla would like to go, but can’t. After Flora returns to Clark it is not clear exactly what happens to her, but the story implies that Clark probably killed her. Thus, he ensures that she will never gain independence or run away again, and symbolically quells any notion of Carla doing the same. The extreme measures Clark takes with Flora serve to illustrate how he will do whatever he can to keep Carla dependent on and tied to him, even though Carla’s true desire is to be free from him.

Flora Quotes in Runaway

The Runaway quotes below all refer to the symbol of Flora. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Attachment, Maturity, and Stability Theme Icon
).
Runaway Quotes

In the first dream Flora had walked right up to the bed with a red apple in her mouth, but in the second dream—last night—she had run away when she saw Carla coming. Her leg seemed to be hurt but she ran anyway. She led Carla to a barbed-wire barricade of the kind that might belong on some battlefield, and then she—Flora—slipped through it, hurt leg and all, just slithered through like a white eel and disappeared.

Related Characters: Carla, Clark
Related Symbols: Flora
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

At first she had been Clark’s pet entirely, following him everywhere, dancing for his attention. She was quick and graceful and provocative as a kitten, and her resemblance to a guileless girl in love had made them both laugh. But as she grew older she seemed to attach herself to Carla, and in this attachment she was suddenly much wiser, less skittish—she seemed capable, instead, of a subdued and ironic sort of humor.

Related Characters: Carla, Clark
Related Symbols: Flora
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

It was almost a relief, though, to feel the single pain of missing Flora, of missing Flora perhaps forever, compared to the mess she had got into concerning Mrs. Jamieson, and her seesaw misery with Clark. At least Flora’s leaving was not on account of anything she—Carla—had done wrong.

Related Characters: Carla, Clark, Sylvia Jamieson
Related Symbols: Flora
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

“It’s said to represent a racehorse,” Sylvia said. “Making that final spurt, the last effort in a race. The rider, too, the boy, you can see he’s urging the horse on to the limit of its strength.”

She did not mention that the boy had made her think of Carla, and she could not now have said why. He was only about ten or eleven years old. Maybe the strength and grace of the arm that must have held the reins, or the wrinkles in his childish forehead, the absorption and the pure effort there was in some way like Carla cleaning the big windows last spring.

Related Characters: Carla, Sylvia Jamieson
Related Symbols: Flora
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

The fog had thickened, taken on a separate shape, transformed itself into something spiky and radiant. First a live dandelion ball, tumbling forward, then condensing itself into an unearthly sort of animal, pure white, hell-bent, something like a giant unicorn, rushing at them.

“Jesus Christ,” Clark said softly and devoutly.

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Clark, Sylvia Jamieson
Related Symbols: Flora
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

“Goats are unpredictable,” Clark said. “They can seem tame but they’re not really. Not after they grow up.”

“Is she grown-up? She looks so small.”

“She’s big as she’s ever going to get.”

Related Characters: Clark (speaker), Sylvia Jamieson (speaker), Carla
Related Symbols: Flora
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

A skull that she could hold like a teacup in one hand. Knowledge in one hand.

Or perhaps not. Nothing there.

Other things could have happened. He could have chased Flora away. Or tied her in the back of the truck and driven some distance and set her loose. Taken her back to the place they’d got her from. Not to have her around, reminding them.

She might be free.

The days passed and Carla didn’t go near that place. She held out against the temptation.

Related Characters: Carla, Clark, Sylvia Jamieson
Related Symbols: Flora
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
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