Gender Roles in Alice Munro’s Boys and Girls

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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' class='brand-secondary'>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 d...

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...le older and a chance to show off her bravery emerges in the form of Flora making her escape, she doesn’t even consider playing the part of the hero, she simply follows her father’s orders, and even that she goes back on when she leaves the gate open. She doesn’t daydream of action and excitement anymore; she instead imagines herself in a love story.

Throughout the story, the different roles and expectations placed on men and women are given the spotlight, and the coming-of-age of two children is depicted in a way that can be related to by many women looking back on their own childhood. The narrator leaves behind her title of “child” and begins to take on a new role as a young, adolescent woman.

Works Cited

Munro, Alice. “Boys and Girls.” Introduction to Literature. Ed. Isobel M. Findlay et al. 5th ed. Canada: Nelson Education, 2004. 491-502. Print.
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