What is the conflict in 'Boys and Girls'?

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The conflict in the story is character-versus-society. In Boys and Girls, the unnamed narrator is a girl who lives on a fox farm. Her father is a fox farmer, while her mother is a homemaker. The narrator has a younger brother named Laird. Before she falls asleep every night, the narrator entertains herself with made-up stories about her own heroic exploits. In each of her stories, she is courageous, bold, and self-sacrificing. The narrator imagines herself rescuing people from a bombed building, shooting two rabid wolves that are terrorizing a schoolyard, and riding a magnificent horse down Main Street in acknowledgement of some act of heroism.

The narrator revels in her imaginary, nightly exploits, as her reality is much different during the daytime. As a rule, she is usually in the house helping her mother with the ceaseless work of canning, cooking, and food preparation. During the summer, there are baskets of peaches, grapes, pears, onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers waiting to be processed into jams, preserves, pickles, sauces, and jellies.

To the narrator, the work in the house is "endless, dreary, and peculiarly depressing," while the work outdoors appears to be "ritualistically important." Instinctively, the narrator probably understands why her feminine contributions are needed. However, she feels resentful that her outdoor work isn't simultaneously appreciated or recognized.

When she overhears a conversation between her mother and father, the narrator is crushed to learn that her efforts are little prized beyond the kitchen. During the conversation, her mother unequivocally states that when Laird grows up, he will be more of a help on the fox farm than his sister can ever be. The narrator will then be free to help her mother in the kitchen. At present, the narrator's mother laments that she has little help:

"I just get my back turned and she runs off. It's not like I had a girl in the family at all."

Even the narrator's grandmother wastes no time in telling the narrator how she should behave as a girl. The adults in the narrator's life fail to appreciate the inherent human longing for freedom. Therefore, their insensitive and unkind judgments often produce results contrary to what they hope to achieve. To preserve her agency, the narrator continues slamming doors and sitting awkwardly, defying her elders at every turn.

The character-versus-society conflict is resolved when the narrator eventually realizes that there are some benefits to being a girl. Towards the end of the story, the narrator lets Flora (a work-horse) escape. It turns out that Flora has been scheduled to be put down. Since the narrator cannot conceive of leaving Flora to such a terrible fate, she neglects to shut the field gates when the horse gallops through. The only one who sees her let Flora go is Laird, her brother.

At dinner time, Laird mentions to their father that his sister was the one who let Flora escape. Surprised, the narrator's father demands to know why she let the horse go. By this time, the narrator is crying, and she is unable to answer. She thinks that she's about to get into trouble and to be sent away from the table. However, her father only comments amiably, "Never mind...she's only a girl." The story ends with the narrator accepting her family's and society's views. She comes to realize that, in her gender-binary world, a girl is often allowed certain delicate emotions or sensibilities a boy in similar circumstances would likely be reprimanded for, precisely because girls are not valued in the same ways that boys are.

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The main conflict in this story is person vs. society, specifically the narrator resisting the idea that she must behave the way society says she must. Her mother reinforces this idea by complaining to her husband that the narrator seems to prefer helping her father instead of doing housework with the mother. During this period of time, girls were expected to be feminine and enjoy doing things that would prepare them to be a wife and a mother. At the beginning of the story, the girl is a tomboy, but by the end, she has been relegated to the status of being a girl because she allowed the horse to escape. Her father sees her actions as weak, something that the weaker sex would do. Even though the narrator realizes that women are not given the same opportunites and status of men, she relents and accepts her role in life.

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