‘‘Boys and Girls’’ was first published in 1968 in The Montrealer, before it was collected with fourteen other stories and published in Alice Munro’s first edition of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968). The story, narrated by a young girl, details the time in her life when she leaves childhood and its freedoms behind and realizes that to be a ‘‘girl’’ is to be, eventually, a woman. The child begins to understand that being socially typed entails a host of serious implications. Thus becoming a ‘‘girl’’ on the way to womanhood is a time fraught with difficulties for the young protagonist because she senses that women are considered the social inferiors of men. Initially, she tries to prevent this from occurring by resisting her parents’ and grandparents’ attempts to train her in the likes, habits, behavior, and work of women. This resistance, however, proves to be useless. The girl ends the story clearly socially positioned as a girl, something which she apprehends with some trepidation. The story is thus a feminist parable of sorts, where a girl bucks against a future that will prevent her from doing, socially, whatever she might please. Although most of Munro’s work does not have such clear and cogent feminist interest, this story eloquently attests to how women worked during this century to change their social position substantially.
Munro’s fiction writing evinces subtle but definite changes throughout her career, and one of the pleasures of reading her fiction is noticing these developments. Nevertheless, ‘‘Boys and Girls’’ is also representative of Munro’s work as a whole, as the story’s formal strategies can be linked to general trends in her writing. For example, Munro is known for her use of irony, and this story contains numerous ironic flourishes. As the girl protagonist is being groomed to curb her wild behavior and pay attention to her manner of dress and her looks in general, Munro lavishly fleshes out the appearance of the mother, whose labor-intensive housework makes it necessary for her to ignore such things entirely. Thus, as the young girl is trained to be vain, an adult woman is presented whose lifestyle in fact precludes such vanity. The girl’s mother ties up her hair and wraps it in a scarf, and favors simple clothing that suits her workaday habits.