Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
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.)
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Coming of Age
In some respects, ‘‘Boys and Girls’’ is a classic coming of age tale. Most societies have either cultural narratives or cultural rituals that bespeak the end of childhood and the entry into adulthood. The way that this shift in a boy or girl’s life is depicted will tell a great deal about the values of a particular culture. If the tale is about a boy who goes on his first hunting expedition, then the reader surmises that bravery is paramount to what makes a boy a man in that society. What, then, marks the transition from girlhood to young womanhood? It is this problem that Munro takes on in ‘‘Boys and Girls.’’ Interestingly, Munro first depicts the young girl narrator defining herself like a boy seemingly would do. She thinks up stories at night in which she is a hero who is brave and saves other people from peril. However, when this girl begins to think of herself as a gendered person, she no longer thinks in terms of heroic qualities that will have some larger social effect, but instead begins to focus on her person itself (her relative beauty or plainness). Will she be ‘‘pretty,’’ she wonders? Will a certain ‘‘fancy’’ material for a dress enhance her looks? Coming of age for a young girl at the historical time of this story, then, seems to rest on the future potential of this girl’s ability to attract men, and thus her marriageability. Bravery and independence, those qualities that will lead...
(The entire section is 325 words.)