Boys and Girls

Alice Munro’s short story, “Boys and Girls,” has a very interesting detail written into it. The narrator’s brother is named Laird, which was carefully chosen by the author. Laird is a synonym for lord, which plays a important role in a story where a young girl has society’s unwritten rules forced upon her. At the time of the story, society did not consider men and women equal.The name symbolized how the male child was superior in the parents eyes and in general.Along with that, the name also symbolizes the difference between the sexes when this story took place.

The time when this story took place was a time when men and women were not equal. Mothers had traditional roles, which usually left them in the house, while men also had their roles, outside of the house. The male was the dominant figure in the house, while the woman had to be subservient.
It was an off thing to see my mother down at the barn. She did not often come out of the house unless it was to do something – hang out the wash or dig potatoes in the garden. She looked out of place, with her bare lumpy legs, not touched by the sun, her apron still on and damp across the stomach from the supper dishes.1
The narrator had problems coming to terms with the role in life that she was expected to lead. She wanted to work outside with her father doing the work that she deemed important. The mother tried to get the narrator to work inside doing work deemed appropriate for a lady, however it was not something she enjoyed. “I hated the hot dark kitchen in the summer” (p. 530).The narrator was not considered of any consequential help to her father, simply because she was female.
“Could of fooled me,” said the salesman. “I thought it was only a girl” (p. 529). Even though the narrator could do more work than her younger brother, she was still under appreciated.”Wait till Laird gets a little bigger, then you’ll have a real help” (p. 530).Laird, on the other hand, was able to go out and do the things that he enjoyed. When Flora, the family’s horse, runs away Laird is invited to join the father and his assistant to re-capture the horse, while the narrator must stay at home.
When the narrator is reminiscing of the past, she recalls a time when she lured Laird up to the top of the barn. The whole purpose of this idea was to get Laird in trouble. However, when her parents come and remove Laird from danger, they are actually mad at her, instead of Laird.This shows how the parents were more concerned with their son and that he could do no wrong. This reflects society’s notion at the time, how men were always right.

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My father came, my mother came, my father went up the ladder talking very quietly and brought Laird down under his arm, at which my mother leaned against the ladder and began to cry. They said to me, “Why weren’t you watching him?” (p. 534)
The grandmother is the best example of how women were thought of at the time. She is from a time when there were even stricter rules of conduct for girls. The narrator’s parents are more lackadaisical than the grandmother and a lot less out-spoken. She voices what was taught to her when she was a child. At the time of the story, girls were expected to be dainty and quaint, while a man was expected to be the rough and tumble one.
“Girls don’t slam doors like that.” “Girls keep their knees together when they sit down.” And worse still, when I asked some questions, “That’s none of girls’ business.” I continued to slam the doors and sit as awkwardly as possible, thinking that by such measures I kept myself free. (p. 532)
The narrator, however, did not keep her self free. Eventually, she began to change and to become a stereotypical female. She began to conform to society’s idea’s about women.
Near the end of the story, Laird starts to realize his sex-determined superiority. He explains to his father and mother how Flora escaped from the yard and also starts listening to his father almost exclusively.

“We shot old Flora,” he said, “and cut her up in fifty pieces.”
“Well I don’t want to hear about it,” my mother said. “And don’t come to my table like that.”
My father made him go and wash the blood off. (p. 536)
Laird washes the blood off only after his father tells him to do so. This shows the dominance of males in the society of the time. Laird may field his mother’s complains, but only does something about it once his father tells him to do so. This shows how his father is the authority figure, that his mother secondary to his father. Even the daughter thinks lowly of the mother in comparison to the father. “It showed how little my mother knew about the way things really were” (p. 531).

“Boys and Girls” takes place at a time where there is no such thing as equality between the sexes. Men in this society are the dominant, authoritarian heads of the house-hold whose work is done outside the home. Women are expected to look after the men and their work is done in the home. The narrator in “Boys and Girls” slowly becomes accustom with her role in society. The narrator and her brother symbolize the roles of males and females in that society. The narrator is forced into doing jobs that she doesn’t enjoy doing, namely that associated with women’s work at the time. Laird is allowed to do what he pleases. Laird is the lord, as a male he is deemed as the more important of the two, simply because of his sex, while the narrator cast into her womanly role, being of secondary importance.
1 Munro, Alice, “Boys and Girls,” Introduction to literature, eds. Gillian Thomas et al, third ed. (Toronto: Hardcourt Brace, 1995), p. 528 All subsequent references will be from this edition and will be cited in the text.

Category: English

Boys And Girls

A Comprehensive Summary of
Alice Munro’s “Boys and Girls”
Alice Munro’s “Boys and Girls” is a story about a girl that struggles against society’s ideas of how a girl should be, only to find her trapped in the ways of the world.
The story starts out on a farm in the 1940’s. The narrator is a woman who is telling the first person point of view of when she was a girl. The girl’s father was a fox farmer. He was a hard working, quiet man and the girl really respected him. Every winter the father killed the foxes that he raised and sold their pelts. The girl loved this time and found it seasonal, although her mother despised it.

In the beginning the girl is about nine years old. She had a younger brother named Laird with whom she shared a bedroom. At night when they would go to bed they would get scared and try to distract themselves by singing. After Laird would go to sleep the girl stayed up and told herself stories. In these stories she was a great hero. She was courageous and bold and she accomplished great feats to rescue others. Everyone adored her for being heroic. The stories always involved her riding and shooting though she couldn’t ride a horse or shoot a gun.
The girl took great pride in the fact that she helped her father with the chores on the farm. Her main chore was to water the foxes. Laird would help with a small watering can though he would usually spill most of his water. The girl would also help her father when he would cut the long grass around the fox pens. He would cut it and she would rake it up. He would then throw the grass on top of the pens to keep the sun off of the foxes. The entire fox pen was well thought out and well made. The foxes were fed horsemeat, which could be bought very cheap. When a farmer had a dying horse her father would pay for the horse and slaughter it. Her father was very ingenious with his fox farm and the girl was obviously impressed. She was proud to work with her father. One time while her father was talking to a salesman he said, “Like you to meet my new hired man.” That comment made her so happy, only to have the salesman reply that he thought it was only a girl.

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While the girl loved the work outside she hated to do the ‘woman’s work’ inside. She disliked her mother for making her do it, and believed that her mother only made her do it because she didn’t like it. She didn’t like anything about this work. She hated the hot dark kitchen, and thought that work was endless, depressing and unimportant as compared to the work she did for her father. She would do a chore for her mother and then run off before she could tell her anything else to do. She had a very low opinion about anything to do with mother. The only thing the mother had to talk about were things that were unimportant to the girl, like dresses and old boyfriends. She thought that her mother was undependable, easily fooled, conniving and ignorant about the way things really were. This opinion was very much different than that she had of her father.

The girl began feeling like she was being attacked. Like everyone was out to make her a ‘girl’. When her grandmother came to town she was bombarded with comments like, “Girls don’t slam doors like that.” and “Girls keep their knees together when they sit down.” The worst was when she would ask a question and the grandmother would reply “That’s none of a girl’s business.” The girl rebelled against comments like these and continued to slam doors and sit awkwardly.
By this time things were changing. Farmers were buying tractors and it became harder to find horses. The family would sometimes get healthy horses that no longer had any use. They would keep these horses all winter long. One winter when she was eleven years old they had two horses, Mack and Flora. Mack was an old workhorse slow and easy to handle. Flora was a sorrel mare who was violent and reckless.
The following spring Mack was to be slaughtered. Henry, who was a hired man on the farm, led Mack out of the stable. While this was going on the girl took Laird up into the barn so that they could watch them shoot the horse. When the horse was shot it didn’t die instantly but instead he fell over and kicked his legs for a few seconds, which caused Henry to laugh. After he died the men examined the horse in a very practiced and businesslike way. The girl felt very uneasy about the death. She then became scared that she would get into trouble for showing Laird the killing so she took him to a movie to help him forget it.

Changes on the farm weren’t the only changes going on. Laird was becoming stronger than she was. She began fixing up her side of the room with lace. She had a dressing table, and she was planning to put a barricade in between her bed and Laird’s. At night she wasn’t scared anymore and she stopped singing. Her stories that she told herself were changing. She was now the one being rescued by boys and men. She began to worry more about what she was wearing and what her hair looked like.

Two weeks after Mack was slaughtered it was time for Flora to be killed. This time she didn’t think about watching. She even felt somewhat ashamed, and her attitude to her father and his work began to change. So while the killing was underway her and her brother were picking up sticks to make a teepee out of. Suddenly there was a lot of commotion and Flora was running free. Her father told her to shut the gate. She ran to the gate and just had just enough time to close it. Instead of closing the gate she opened it wide and let the horse run free. Laird got there just in time to see her do it. When her father and Henry showed up they thought that she didn’t get there in time. They simply got the gun and the knives they used and jumped in the truck. On the way out they stopped and picked up Laird who was begging to go.

Even though the girl thought that she would be in trouble for letting the horse out she did not regret it, even though she wasn’t sure why she had done it. After everyone arrived back home they had dinner. Laird was excited and showed off the blood that he had on his arm from the horse. During dinner Laird told everyone how she had let the horse out of the gate. She began crying and her father said, “Never mind, she’s only a girl.” Finally she didn’t protest it and thought that maybe it was true.
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