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Social Norms In The Book Boys And Girls By Alice Munro

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“Boys and Girls” by Alice Murno is a coming of age story about gender roles, the narrator tells us about her life as a child on a farm and how she discovered that her role on the farm as she grows up. She describes the various roles on the fox farm that varies between her and her young brother. In order to covey this coming of age story, Munro used literary devices like symbolism, tone, foreshadowing.

“Boys and Girls” is a part of a collaboration of short stories called Dances of the Happy Shades. Dances of the Happy Shades was published in 1968. During this time, the women’s movement has begun. The women’s movement started due to the low status and freedoms women had in society. “Boys and Girls” shows the typical gender roles during this time. It’s one of the first times that a woman writer supports the changes to enlarge women’s social choices.

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The setting of the story is at a fox farm during the 1960’s. During this time, the woman movement began in the city. Since the character resided in the reserved countryside, they may not have learned about this social change until later. In the narrator’s family men and women were unequal. Gender stereotypes were normal. “Boys and Girls” uses first-person point of view considering the whole story is based off the narrator’s perspective. The purpose of having this point of view show the difference between the narrator and the rest of the characters in the story. The narrator showed abilities that we didn’t see from another character. For example, she used her imagination a lot. According to Nischik, this is an example of “the potentially compensatory function of literature in general, of the narrator’s imaginative ability in particular (which sets her apart from the rest of her totally unimaginative family, who are stuck in conventional thought patterns)” (Nischik 3) Another that sets the narrator apart is she is the only character to think that gender stereotypes are not normal. Several times a family stated what a female should be doing. For example, the narrator stated “My grandmother came to stay with us for a few weeks and I heard other things. '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.' (Munro 6) Murno utilize flashback and foreshadowing using fantasies/stories. “This hypothesis concerning her male orientation gains support from the nature of her nocturnal fantasies” (Goldman 2) The narrator fantasies/stories portray what she would like her adult life to be; without having to worry about gender roles. “Stories something different was happening, mysterious alterations took place. A story might start off in the old way, with a spectacular danger, a fire or wild animals, and for a while I might rescue people; then things would change around, and instead, somebody would be rescuing me. It might be a boy from our class at school, or even Mr. Campbell, our teacher, who tickled girls under the arms.” (Murno 11) In this story the narrator is feeling as if she is being trapped into something that doesn’t want to do. In comparison, the two horses bought to be used for food for their foxes. This is an example of foreshadowing. In the story, the narrator acknowledges the fact she knows the death of the horses is beneficial to fox farm. However, the narrator allowed her emotions to let the mare Flora runaway. The animal’s death relates the gender roles of the narrator. No matter how hard she tries to withstand her future, she is going to lose to forces greater than herself.

Murno used symbolism in the story to create imagery and express the theme. In the story, descriptions of the setting can be seen as symbolism. For example, the smell of the foxes at night and images of light and dark in her room is a symbol for comfort. Another example is the description of the surroundings of the workspaces she encounters with her mom verses her dad. “I hated the hot dark kitchen in summer…It seemed to me that work in the house was endless, dreary, and peculiarly depressing; work done out of doors, and in my father's service, was ritualistically important.” (Munro 4) This shows that the narrator dislikes the female tasks and contrasts with the freedom she feels when working outside. “For this reason, the mother treats her daughter as a fellow prisoner and their association is characterized by speech and openness. “(Goldman 3) Also, Munro used symbolism throughout the story to emphasis a deeper meaning in the story. The fox’s names symbolize the maturity and identity of each character that names them. The ones given by the father are very general. Later in the story, you will see that the father only interest is farming. He’s not very talkative. The narrator states that “My father did not talk to me unless it was about the job we were doing.” (Munro 3) The narrator gives the foxes lady-like names. This portrays the narrator’s girly ways. Laird gives thoughtless names showing that he is young and immature. “Those my father had named were called names like Prince, Bob, Wally, and Betty. Those I had named were called Star or Turk, or Maureen or Diana. Laird named one Maude after a hired girl we had when he was little, one Harold after a boy at school, and one Mexico, he did not say why” (Munro 3) Another symbol is the farming industry. The farming industry was portrayed as a man’s world. An example for the story is “One time a feed salesman came down into the pens to talk to him and my father said, 'Like to have you meet my new hired hand.' I turned away and raked furiously, red in the face with pleasure. 'Could of fooled me,' said the salesman. 'I thought it was only a girl.'” (Munro 4) I believe that the gender of the horse are a symbol. In “Boys and Girls” she watched the stallion be killed but decided to set the mare free. This symbolism relates to how women were rejecting the fate that gender roles had for them. Throughout, the story the narrator fights the urge of being girly. “The word girl had formerly seemed to me innocent and unburdened like the word child; now it appeared that it was no such thing.” (Munro 6) The narrator remains unnamed throughout the story could be figurative to her search for an identity throughout the story.

“Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro is one of the first stories to illustrates the confusing process of young lady learning her identify while dealing with social norms. I believe that Munro decided to portray women’s identity because during this time, being a different was unusual. The literary devices, she used to allow us to explore the coming of age of a young woman and the various roles between males and females.

Work Cited

  1. Goldman, Marlene. 'Penning in the Bodies: The Construction of Gendered Subjects in Alice Munro's 'Boys and Girls'.' Literature Resource Center, Gale, 2020. Gale Literature Resource Center, Accessed 2 Apr. 2020. Originally published in Studies in Canadian Literature, 1990.
  2. Nischik, Reingard M. '(Un-)Doing Gender: Alice Munro, ‘Boys and Girls’ (1964).' Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Lawrence J. Trudeau, vol. 370, Gale, 2015. Gale Literature Resource Center, Accessed 2 Apr. 2020. Originally published in The Canadian Short Story, edited by Reingard M. Nischik, Camden House, 2007, pp. 203-218.
  3. Munro, Alice. “Boys and Girls.” Boys and Girls,
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