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AliceMunro’s “Boys and Girls”: Summary &amp Analysis

‘Boysand Girls’ is an interesting short story by Alice Munro. Shewrites a story about how a young girl resists womanhood in a societyfull of stereotypes and gender roles. It is a story that happens inthe 1940s on a farm in Canada. The narrator shows how during thattime women were treated as second class citizens and proceeds tochallenge the stereotype. She intentionally invents a character withno name to symbolize lack of identity. The brother of narrator iscalled Laird carefully placed by the author as it is a synonym forthe word lord. This was to show how parents considered the male childsuperior compared to the female child. The father of the narrator isa fox farmer who raised profits from selling fox fur and pelts. Thegirl in the story sought attention from the father as she grew up.She often helped the father with work and she is quoted complaininghow the father only talks to her when it is related to the foxes (P.528).

Thegirl child slowly began to withdraw from household chores and workingin the kitchen with her mother. This resulted in her loss for amother’s subservient position and respect in the family. Shedescribes household chores as endless and tiring and places moreimportance to what her father did outside in the farm. Thisresentment illustrates how the narrator is trying to be recognized asmore than a girl (P.529). The protagonist begins to realize how the society views herwhen her father introduces her to a salesman as a hired hand and thesalesman is astonished because she is a girl. Her grandmother alsoseem t bombard her with all sorts of womanhood mannerisms. The worstwas yet to happen when she tried to enquire something from hergrandmother and got a shocking response how it was not a girl’sbusiness. She reluctantly continues to behave against the guidelinesby her grandmother because it made her feel gender free. She declinedto accept what the society limited her to do or not to (P. 528).

Inthe short story even the little brother Laird is also coming intoterms with his identity. He desires to work and achieve the hard andmasculine jobs in the house. The narrator clearly hears her motherconsoling the father that Laird will soon be strong enough to givehim real help. This shows the expectations laid down for the malechild to work as his father. With this knowledge the narrator beginsto show her jealousy. In one instance she makes her little brotherclimb a ladder hoping he gets into trouble but on arrival her parentsscolded her for not watching him. This magnifies double standards inthe society between genders (P. 528). There is also a theme thatsearches for individuality in the story. The narrator shares a roomwith Laird and at night after he falls asleep she tells stories toherself. It’s in these self stories that she is bold, courageousand everyone admires her for her outstanding character. This showswho she wanted to become an independent and powerful woman which inthat present day was exact opposite of the expectations her familyhad of her.

Theprotagonist also struggles with her identity during another instancewith a family horse named Flora. Sometimes the foxes were fed inhorsemeat that was not of use to the family. These horses would bereared and kept mostly during winter. One day it was the turn ofFlora to be fed to the foxes. She was rebellious, fast and violentand when the narrator’s father almost killed her she escaped. Thenarrator was in place to close the gate to prevent Flora fromescaping but she instead let her get away. She justified her actionsaying that she supported Flora and this showed her desire to befree. Flora was still killed that night and when the father askedLaird why her sister let the horse escape he dismissed her as just agirl. The narrator does not attempt to challenge or dispute herfather as she felt that her brother somehow was right. It was thenthat she accepted he identity and gender role (P. 531).

Thenarrator begins to pay more attention to her female identity likedecorating her room and gradually lost interest in the farm work. Thestories she told herself at night changed to her appearance andplaced the boys as the heroes. She sadly admits how she was meant tobecome a girl and not just who she was. The narrator eventuallyaccepts her identity with a fight. The horse blood on Laird stronglysymbolizes the superior position of the male child in the society.The narrator was always underappreciated as compared to her botherjust because of his gender. He is deemed the lord and her sister ofsecondary importance. Alice Munro illustrates to the reader how thegirl child discrimination in the society. She also shows the readeron the importance of accepting self identity. In the end the narratorbecomes herself and not just a girl (P.531).


Munro,Alice, “Boys and Girls,” Introduction to literature, eds. GillianThomas et al, third ed. (Toronto: Hardcourt Brace, 1995), p. 528-531