Gender Roles In Alice Munro’s Boys And Girls

1094 words - 4 pages

In Alice Munro’s short story “Boys and Girls,” our narrator is a young farm girl on the verge of puberty who is learning what it means to be a “girl.” The story shows the differing gender roles of boys and girls – specifically that women are the weaker, more emotional sex – by showing how the adults of the story expect the children to grow into their respective roles as a girl and a boy, and how the children grow up and ultimately begin to fulfill these roles, making the transition from being “children” to being “young adults.”

The adults in the story expect the children to grow into the gender role that their sex has assigned to them. This is seen in several places throughout the story, such as when the narrator hears her mother talking to her father, “I heard my mother saying, ‘Wait till Laird gets a little bigger, then you’ll have a real help’…. ‘And then I can use her more in the house’” (Munro 495), when her grandmother comes to visit and tells her all the things girls aren’t supposed to do, and when she is roughhousing with her little brother and the farm hand, Henry Bailey, tells her, “that there Laird’s gonna show you, one of these days” (Munro 497). While the narrator disagrees with the adults, and tries not to conform to their expectations, at the end of the story both she and her brother end up acting exactly as a child of their age and gender would be expected to act: the preteen girl crying with no apparent logical reason, and the young boy excited to have been included with the men, and talking about the thrilling tale of slaying a horse.

At the beginning of the story, the narrator and her brother are just “children,” but by the end of it the narrator is a “girl” and Laird is a “boy”; they have become very different things, separate from each other. At first they are both afraid of the dark spaces in their room, and they both sing songs to keep the dangers at bay. Neither child has an interest in the work of their parent of the same gender; Laird runs off to play instead of helping with the foxes, and the narrator escapes from the kitchen the first chance she gets (Munro 495). Later in the story, however, Laird begins to take an interest in the men’s work of hunting and killing the horse, and the narrator, while not yet embracing the work of her mother, is disengaging herself from her father’s work and turning toward the more feminine work of decorating her room. Neither of them sing songs anymore, even though the narrator continued to enjoy it, Laird said it “sounded silly,” so she stopped (Munro 501); this is an example of both Laird becoming more masculine, because he no longer wants to take part in frivolous things such as singing “Jingle Bells” at night, and the narrator becoming more feminine, because she so easily bows to her brother’s opinion. Laird has started to accept the role of “leader” instead of just being “young and obedient,” (Munro 499) and the narrator is taking other people’s opinions into consideration...

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