Alice Munro grew up on a small farm which provided her with a firsthand view of the imagery she would come to use in her writing. One story with a small farm family is “Boys and Girls. ” It is an initiation story of a young girl at conflict with the gender roles placed upon her. At a time when gender roles were being challenged, Munro writes about a fox farmer’s daughter. The girl wants to help her father, but that is a man’s work. Munro’s own father was a fox farmer turned foundry worker turned turkey farmer (Rasporich 3).
She knew of the life style the common farm family and found a way to write about the struggle of a girl within it. Her father is thankful for any help he receives around the farm, but the girl’s mother would like help in the house and does not think farming foxes is a proper way for a woman to spend her time. The girl’s brother is who the mother wants to help with the foxes more so that the girl can help in the house. Influenced by Munro’s life experiences, the conflict between social standards and individual freedom in “Boys and Girls” is emphasized through the depiction of free will flowing through punishment and into conformity.
Raised in rural Ontario, Alice Munro led a quiet life that was influenced greatly by her family and events during her life. During the Depression, her father worked as a fox farmer (Rasporich 3), directly relating to the narrator’s life in “Boys and Girls. ” Her family life was made up of her father, Robert Laidlaw, and mother, Anne Clarke Chamney. She had a younger brother and sister, Bill and Sheila. Though her family raised her well, her first experience at school left her with “another kind of world view” (Rasporich 4).
She was appalled at the violence and vulgarity from her experience. Most memories Munro from public school are ones of awkwardness and humiliation. Eventually she was sent to a private school after her parents aved enough money. Her feelings about the traditional gender roles stem from her mother’s life experiences. Her belief was “[not that my mother] resented housework in any particular way or anything like that, but she had all that energy that couldn’t be properly used.. if she had married a leading citizen she could have used that energy to be a big organizing force” (Rasporich 7).
Her mother seemed to be held down by society and driven by social norms to remain a housewife. A parallel to her story “Boys and Girls,” she often helped her father with the foxes, but “[her] brother got old enough to do it and [her] mother was etting sick, so I had to go in and do housework” (Rasporich 8). “Boys and Girls” is thus a very personal story that Munro put her own emotions and experiences into, emphasizing its critical theme through a fictional girl’s family life. Finding the narrator’s free will in “Boys and Girls” is what the reader and the narrator try to do throughout the story.
Helping her father with the foxes, denying her mother help in the house, and freeing a horse from an inevitable death are examples found within the story of free will being expressed by the narrator. Following the boys, she helps with her father with her rother. She says “brother… and I… watched” (Munro 145). Her normal behavior reflects not a need to fit in where society wants her to belong, but she puts herself on her own path, filling her life with unconventional means of fulfillment.
She works with the boys, showing her freedom at the beginning of the story. The narrator’s mother worked in the house, watching her daughter break social norms. Work in the house, though, “seemed .. endless, dreary and peculiarly depressing” (Munro 148) to the daughter. Her mother “was plotting now to get [her] to stay in the house more” (Munro 149). The narrator resists her other’s want for her to give in to social norms and give up her free will and reacts in increasing opposition to society as the story progresses.
A last effort to keep her free will is found when she releases a horse from her captivators who would have the horse killed. Flora is a horse who has become too much of a burden to keep for the family. She is being brought out to be shot when she broke away. The narrator is the only one who can prevent her escape by closing the gate, but she does not close the gate. Flora runs through the gate, escaping, remaining free, a symbol of the narrator’s want to stay free as well. Other f Munro’s stories show the need of female freedom.
Assad says “[u]nlike depictions of women in masculinist works, which emphasize how wome welcomed by women searching for reinstatement or admission into the mainstream of culture with the anticipation that the situation of women can be changed for the better” (130). Female characters in Munro’s stories, like the narrator in “Boys and Girls,” take on a role of showing the power women have at free are outside of power… Munro’s fiction is will in their lives. Consequences often result from acts of rebellion or free will, especially those acts that go against the social norms prescribed o a person.
The main accusers for the narrator’s acts of rebellion are the other female characters of the story. The male characters more often send her away when she oversteps her perceived bounds as a female. In one example, her mother makes it clear to her father that she is a girl and should act like one. The father uses the help of his daughter, and does not see the problem with her helping around the farm, but her mother thinks that she should be helping in the house. There is a moment when the narrator realizes, because of her mother, that “[a] girl was not. imply what I was; it was what I had to ecome” (Munro 149). From her mother’s words, she drew the conclusion that she could not just be a girl who helped around the farm to society. She had to become a girl to fit into society and that meant giving up her want to help around the farm with her father.
The accusations from her mother were supported by her grandmother, who came to visit for a few weeks, bringing with her words like “Girls don’t slam doors like that. ‘ “Girls keep their knees together when they sit down’ and … That’s none of a girls’ business. (Munro 150). After the words of her mother combined with the words of her grandmother, the word “girl” ook on a new meaning to the narrator, showing a feeling of being held down and penned in. The narrator’s father, whom she looks at to allow her to remain free of the social norms prescribed to a female, sends her away because of her gender role. Instead of allowing her to stay and watch a horse getting shot, he says “Go on up and play around the house” (Munro 150), sending her away from the sight that only a male should be a part of in society.
She is penned up, like a fox. Goldman makes this analogy, “the father cultivates wild animals for the purpose of consumption. As the narrator explains, he ‘raised silver foxes in pens. The word ‘raised’ refers to silver foxes, but.. can be understood with the familial context: people often speak of raising children. ” The link can then be made to the father treating his daughter much like he treats the foxes, distant and only a means to an end. His daughter is then a product to him, raw material to be turned into something that can be used by another.
The shaping of the narrator starts from the beginning of the story. Her father conforms her to the task of helping around the farm. She is taught to do chores as she’s told to. She says that “[b]esides carrying water I helped father when he cut the long rass” (Munro 147). These tasks were given to her and she carried them out in submission to her father. She was comfortable with the work, even though it was very different from housework, and “[n]evertheless… [she] worked willingly under [her father’s] eyes” (Munro 147).
This submission to the work given to her from her father prepares her for the change do the tasks required of a girl. Her grandmother speaks to her, telling her stories that seemed to show a subliminal message. The narrator observed that would come when she must sta that “It]he story concerned itself at great length with what I looked like” (Munro 154). The shift to conformity is solidified with the narrator’s father though. He is what traps her into filling the female role that society puts forth. He takes her from the work that she enjoys and leaves her with her mother.
Like other of Munro’s works, the father is the underlying force that ultimately leads to the downfall of a character. Garson likens the story in “Boys and Girls” to other of Munro’s stories, saying “It]he triumph over Mary is illusory, the alliance with the father unviable in the long run, as stories like ‘Boys and Girls’ suggest” (800). The narrator’s father mainly drives the girl to ecome a girl, forcing into submission, just like he had her submit to the work he prescribed to her at the beginning of the story.
Munro’s story “Boys and Girls” is an in-depth story portraying one girl’s struggles finding a way to remain independent in a society that requires certain behaviors based on gender. Munro lived her early life similarly to the narrator of her story, drawing on personal experience to add depth and character to the story. Her firsthand experience builds the story into an initiation tale that has the realistic view many stories lack. The narrator of Munro’s story fights with conventional female gender roles that er family and society try to prescribe to her.
The transition from being able to perform tasks around the farm with the girl’s father to being in the regular role of a female is instigated in many ways, some obvious, and others that are not obvious. The story shows a personal connection to Munro, as the conflict between social standards and individual freedom is emphasized through the depiction of the narrator’s rebellious acts of free will result in punishment from her family and society and change her view of the world to produce conformity to the female gender roles present in the society.