Munro contrasts Grant and Fiona’s whimsy with Aubrey and Marian’s practicality. Grant and Fiona, for example, have intellectual discussions over dinner, which they prepare together every night in the simple and colorful rooms of Fiona’s design. Marian, on the other hand, has painstakingly filled her house with cheap design elements like drapes. Their approach to caring for their spouses is also different, as Grant predominately thinks about Fiona’s (or his own) emotional state, while Marian focuses on her and Aubrey’s financial realities. The encounter between Grant and Marian ultimately presents unthinking whimsy as a form of elitism; people like Grant and Fiona can behave as they do only because they are of a certain class and lack immediate financial or practical concerns that worry people like Marian. Munro’s portrayal of both couples highlights how a sense of carefree spontaneity may be more a marker of social status than any innate personal quality.
Grant sees Fiona’s humor as the cornerstone of her personality. When he first describes Fiona’s younger years, he says, “sororities were a joke to her, and so was politics.” Fiona “made fun” of the men courting her, “and of Grant as well.” Fiona’s tendency to joke even frames Grant’s memory of their engagement: when she proposed to him, Grant “thought maybe she was joking.” Grant also directly contrasts Fiona with Marian (and the other women with whom he has affairs). He dreams that, when Fiona learns of the letter written by the suicidal girl, she says, “oh phooey [...] girls that age are always going around talking about how they’ll kill themselves”; he later recalls that Fiona’s reaction in reality (he really did receive such a letter) was not all the different from “what she said in the dream.”
Grant also describes Jacqui Adams, his first lover, as “the opposite of Fiona-short, cushiony, dark-eyed, effusive. A stranger to irony.” Grant clearly bristles at serious emotions and admires his wife’s ability to greet such issues with flippancy. Indeed, when visiting Marian and Aubrey’s house, Grant notes “two layers of front-window curtains, both blue, one sheer and one silky.” He remembers that “Fiona had a word for those sort of swooping curtains-she said it like a joke, though the women she’d pick it up from used it seriously.” Fiona’s nonchalance makes her superior to other women in Grant’s eyes, because she doesn’t take the mundanities of life seriously.
Yet Munro makes clear that such an attitude is the byproduct of Fiona’s financial security, which removes more pressing concerns from her life. Humor, the story suggests, is a privilege. This privilege is further evident in the fact that Grant secures his first job at a university through Fiona’s father’s money, and is able to take early retirement when Fiona inherits her father’s property. Having never faced serious concerns about money, Grant subsequently assumes that Marian had been acting on principle when she reveals that she never considering permanently leaving Aubrey at Meadowlake. Marian is quick to correct him, outlining her situation: “I don’t have the money to put him in there unless I sell the house […] next year I’ll have his pension and my pension, but even so I couldn’t afford to keep him there and hang on to the house.”
Grant finds this conversation familiar and “depressing”—it reminds him of his family and Grant’s own mother, who thought about “money first.” He assumes that Marian would see him as “a silly person, full of boring knowledge and protected by some fluke from the truth about life.” Through this assessment, Grant acknowledges that he married into money but dismisses it as a “fluke.” After this conversation he thinks that “being up against a person like that”—what he calls a “practical” person—“made him feeling hopeless, exasperated, finally almost desolate” because of how easily he realizes it could have been his life, if he had not married Fiona.
When he decides to return Marian’s call inviting him to a singles dance, he has decided that he feels an affection for Marian’s “high-gloss exactness and practicality.” Grant’s secret, Munro reveals, is thus the fact that he sees himself as one of the “practical people,” more akin to Aubrey and Marian than to the upper-class Fiona. He fears that he was picked up on “one of Fiona’s eccentric whims.” While he strives to be like her and her wealthy family, Munro shows, he may nevertheless identify more with lower middle-class financial practicality. On another level, this suggests that illness and aging are the great equalizers; that they affect everyone, regardless of class or social stature, and as such help Grant come down to earth, as it were. Having been faced with something very serious—something that no amount of flippancy can fix—he can perhaps better appreciate the beauty of practicality.
Class, Practicality, and Humor ThemeTracker
Class, Practicality, and Humor Quotes in The Bear Came Over the Mountain
He thought maybe she was joking when she proposed to him, on a cold bright day on the beach at Port Stanley. Sand was stinging their faces and the waves delivered crashing loads of gravel at their feet.
“Do you think it would be fun—” Fiona shouted. “Do you think it would be fun if we got married?”
He took her up on it, he shouted yes. He wanted never to be away from her. She had the spark of life.
She was the opposite of Fiona—short, cushiony, dark-eyed, effusive. A stranger to irony. The affair lasted for a year, until her husband was transferred. When they were saying goodbye in her car, she began to shake uncontrollably. It was as if she had hypothermia. She wrote to him a few times, but he found the tone of her letters overwrought and could not decide how to answer.
Grant caught sight of two layers of front-window curtains, both blue, one sheer and one silky, a matching blue sofa and a daunting pale carpet, various bright mirrors and ornaments.
Fiona had a word for those sort of swooping curtains—she said it like a joke, though the women she’d picked it up from used it seriously. Any room that Fiona fixed up was bare and bright—she would have deplored the crowding of all this fancy stuff into such a small space.
His uncles, his relatives, probably even his mother, had thought the way Marian thought. They had believed that when other people did not think that way it was because they were kidding themselves—they had got too airy-fairy, or stupid, on account of their easy and protected lives or their education. They had lost touch with reality. Educated people, literary people, some rich people like Grant’s socialist in-laws had lost touch with reality. Due to an unmerited good fortune or an innate silliness. In Grant’s case, he suspected, they pretty well believed it was both.
That was how Marian would see him, certainly. A silly person, full of boring knowledge and protected by some fluke from the truth about life [...]
He might have married her. Think of it. He might have married some girl like that. If he’d stayed back where he belonged.