Boys and Girls, a short story by Alice Munro, deals with the theme of female role in society, but moreso with the theme of growing up. The narrator's journey to acceptance of her female role is more important in the sense that it is her transition into adulthood than for the exact role she is growing into. However, as the narrator's role changes, conflict between masculinity and femininity occurs. Munro uses the narrator's parents as symbolic of their sexes.

In the first several paragraphs of the story, the narrator describes the family fox farm, managed by the father. Munro uses vivid imagery to explain the process of skinning foxes. Also mentioned is a company calendar, described as 'heroic', containing pictures of adventurers and savages and conquest.

The author leads into description of the narrator's mother with mention of the mother's opinion. "In fact, she disliked the whole pelting operation --that was what the killing, skinning, and preparation of the furs was called --and wished it did not have to take place in the house. There was the smell." The narrator's parents demonstrate stereotypical male and female roles: man as hunting and providing for a family, woman as caring for the home.

Much of the first part of the story is exposition, describing the characters, things and events common to the narrator's life. However, the section is not less important for it. Subtle use of language conveys circumstance, background, and character.

"We were not afraid of outside though this was the time of year when snowdrifts curled around our house like sleeping whales and the wind harassed us all night... We were afraid of inside, the room where we slept." So says the narrator, describing the night time fears and rituals she and her brother maintain. Munro italicises 'outside' and 'inside', making them appear more important than surrounding words to the reader. Outside and inside are evocative words; Munro could be using them in any of a number of senses. Perhaps she intends 'inside' to refer to the characters' inner selves, or perhaps she is concentrating attention inside the unit of the narrator's family, here symbolised by their house.

In this section, Munro also employs simile --as, "snowdrifts curled like sleeping whales", and verisimilitude. The farm outside the house is described in detail, as are the contents of the room in which the narrator and Laird sleep --several household articles and a painting of the Battle of Balaclava described as "very sad to look at". The Battle of Balaclava is better know as the Charge of the Light Brigade, of poetic fame. It calls to mind heroism and bravery, where the other articles in the room imply domesticity. The narrator's waking dreams also incorporate the motif of heroism. She tells herself stories which "presented opportunities for courage, boldness, and self-sacrifice" to her.

Verisimilitude is again employed in the description of the fox farm. The fox pens, the narrator's duties in caring for them, and the foxes themselves are described in detail. Munro characterises the narrator, her father and brother by listing examples of the names each character choses for foxes. The father picks standard, practical names like Wally and Betty. The narrator chooses romantic ones, like Star or Diana. Laird names foxes after acquaintances and countries, perhaps implying lack of imagination --a quality the narrator seems to possess amply.

It is also in this section that we discover for the first time the main character's gender. Previously the author has hinted... but she has hinted both that the narrator is a boy, and that the narrator is a girl. This ambiguity lends importance to the revelation, which would otherwise be quite commonplace. The father introduces a salesman to the narrator as the "new hired man", and the salesman comments "Could of fooled me. I thought it was only a girl." The remark implies both that a girl helping out at a fox farm is surprising, and also, through use of the word "only" that she is unimportant. At this critical point in the story, contrast between the narrator's societal role as a girl and her actual habits begins to be omnipresent.

Accordingly, the symbols of femininity and masculinity almost immediately collide. The narrator describes the appearance of her mother at the barn as odd, and her mother as out of place there. Clearly, the area is in the male province. Here again, there is detailed description, this time of the mother's household duties and the tasks she enlists her daughter for. However, the tone the author employs here is monotonous, where the tone used to describe the narrator's fox farm duties is proud.

The mother remarks "It's not like I had a girl in the family at all." With this sentence, the author sums up the narrator's character. She is the essential tomboy, not even distinguishable as female until it is mentioned. At this point, the author illustrates the narrator's feelings for her mother. We have already the feeling that the father is something of an idol, but the mother has been a background character to this point. The narrator describes the mother as kind, but undependable, and on 'the other side'. "...but she was also my enemy. She was always plotting. She was plotting now to get me to stay in the house more, although she knew I hated it (because she knew I hated it) and keep me from working with my father." The author uses strong words like 'enemy', 'plotting', and 'hate' to imply the vehemency of the narrator's opinion on the matter.

Another archetypally female character is soon introduced. The narrator's grandmother is characterised by several quoted lines, and nothing more. Indeed, nothing more is necessary. "Girls don't slam doors like that." "Girls keep their knees together when they sit down." and "That's none of girls' business" succinctly describe the grandmother's relevancy to the narrator, as a further threat to enjoyable occupation with the foxes and a portent of future kitchen toil. As the narrator ages, the author makes the fact that she is a girl more and more important to the story. Where it was not mentioned at all in the first several pages, here it is the topic of nearly every paragraph.

The narrator's decision to watch her father shooting a horse for fox feed may be intended by the author to indicate defiance in the face of pressure to be feminine. However, the incident ironically leads to the narrator becoming more feminine, rather than less. The next time a horse is to be shot, the narrator doesn't consider sneaking into the barn to watch. When she is busy looking into the mirror and wondering whether she will be pretty or not when she grows up, she sometimes thinks about the first horse, and feels more distant from her father and his work. Here is a major change in character. The author has used the narrator's sight of the horse dying as a catalyst for the character's future development and change.

The second critical single event in the story is the escape of a horse. The narrator's father is planning to shoot it, and as it runs through the pasture towards the gate, the narrator is the only character with a chance of preventing its escape. She, however, impulsively opens the gate wide. Her father, the hired man, and her brother --all of the males in the family --go to catch the horse, leaving the narrator and her mother behind. The author writes of the narrator's realisation that she has not helped the horse to escape, as it will eventually be caught, and has only caused her father trouble. However, she does not regret her action. This indicates a serious change in character; previously, the narrator was focused on helping her father, where now she does not regret inconveniencing him to benefit a horse. When the reader learns that the character's daydreams now feature herself as the rescuee rather than the rescuer, the impression that the character has undergone a complete change is cemented.

When the father learns the cause of the horse's escape, he asks why the narrator opened the gate. She begins to cry --another manifestation of her change, as public display of tears is considered much more feminine than masculine. The story concludes

"'Never mind,' my father said. He spoke with resignation, even good humour, the words which absolved and dismissed me for good. 'She's only a girl,' he said. I didn't protest that, even in my heart. Maybe it was true."

The last line is the completion of the change which took place in the main character, the narrator, throughout the story. The line carries a tone of defeat, and indeed, the character resisted the change as it occurred in others' perception of her. He realisation of her own inner change indicates her defeat.

"Boys and Girls" is a classical 'coming of age' tale. It describes a character's maturation from a child into an adult, using plot and other characters to facilitate description of the main character. Alice Munro uses verisimilitude, symbolic characters, and a strong narrating personality to make the story come alive in the mind of the reader and convey its message strongly.

Node your homework! This essay came into existence as an oral commentary for IB English.

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