Themes and Meanings
Alice Munro has often written about the seemingly unbridgeable gap that separates men and women. In “Boys and Girls,” this gap is examined in the small world of a farm. Because the narrator is female, she is expected to behave in a subdued and frivolous way, to be devoted to domestic chores, and to ally with her mother against “male” pursuits such as farming, shooting, and heroism. The girl rebels against these stereotypes. Initially, she identifies more readily with her father than with her mother, noting that her father’s work seems important and interesting while her mother’s is depressing. Her mother says that she feels she does not have a daughter at all and looks forward to the day that Laird can be a “real help” to her husband. When that day arrives, her daughter will be expected to work indoors.
Several of Munro’s stories examine the pain and necessity of children “choosing sides.” Here the daughter is proud that her father appreciates her hard work, but she is ambivalent about the violence and callousness that is necessary to please him. At first, it seems that Munro intends the girl’s guilty reaction and feelings of horror at Flora’s death to be stereotypical “feminine” responses, just as her brother’s casual acceptance is a “masculine” reaction. Munro suggests, however, that these expectations are arbitrary and hurtful to both genders. At first Laird is shocked by Mack’s shooting; later he comes to regard...
(The entire section is 461 words.)