How does the setting have an impact on the interaction of the characters in the story "Boys and Girls" by Alice Munro?

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samcestmoi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro is set on a fox farm in the early twentieth century, where a young girl lives with her parents and younger brother Laird.  On a traditional farmstead, the roles for men and women are very sharply divided, and it is before this backdrop that the narrator must discover what it means to be a “girl” in such a society.  This setting is ideal to display such a contrast, due to these fixed, gender-dependent responsibilities, and the narrator learns over the course of the story that these conventions are non-negotiable. 

At the beginning of the story the narrator is a bit of a tomboy – she much prefers helping her father outside around the farm to assisting with domestic matters inside with her mother, much to the latter’s chagrin.  Her mother is overheard complaining that “It’s not like I had a girl in the family at all.”  This statement confuses the narrator, not yet understanding that certain things are expected of her as a female, rather than a male, child.  This relationship with her mother – one of resentment and maybe even jealousy on the part of the parent, due to the fact that the daughter wants nothing to do with her domestic world – is indicative of the general atmosphere throughout the story.  Most of the other characters as well expect the narrator to behave as a girl should, a feeling which becomes more defined and universal as she and Laird get older.

At the end of the story, when Laird tells on his sister for allowing the horse Flora to escape, she is ashamed and begins to cry, and while her father is initially angry, she is soon dismissed with the casual yet loaded phrase, “she’s only a girl.”  This comment from her father, who until this moment has taken no part in the gender categorization in the story, can be seen as the final, solidifying proponent of convention.  And to a certain extent this convention is within the narrator, as well.  On a farm, where men do men’s chores and women do women’s, there is no possibility for an unevenly divided soul – the narrator can’t have her feminine nighttime fantasies and decorate her room in lace while also toiling outside with her father.  She must choose, and unfortunately for her, society has done the choosing for her.