Alice Munro's short story, "Boys and Girls," explores the different roles of men and women in society through a young girl's discovery of what it means to be a girl. A close examination of the elements of a short story as they are used in "Boys and Girls" helps us to understand the meaning of the story.
The story is set in the 1940s, on a fox farm outside of Jubilee, a rural area only twenty miles away from the county jail. The farm is a place that reflects the ingenuity of the narrator's father. The pens for the foxes are arranged in neat rows, inside a high guard fence like a "medieval town". The pens each contain a kennel, a wooden ramp, and dishes attached to the wire fence. The fox farm is the father's domain, a place of hard work and creativity, in which the narrator feels at home. The house itself is the mother's domain, but it is a place that the narrator shuns, as she shuns many elements of the feminine world. The contrast between the girl's concept of the farm and of the house demonstrates the conflict she experiences between her chosen position as her father's helper and her position in society as a girl.
The point of view of the story is first person. The narrator is a young girl in the process of growing up, who is, at the end of the story, only eleven years old. She is a naïve narrator, being so young, and is unreliable in her view of the people around her, especially her understanding of her mother's motives. By writing the story in this way, Munro gives us a look at women's role in society through the eyes of a girl who is just finding out the effect that society's expectations have on her.
The narrator is the main character of the story. As the protagonist, she is a ...
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... as a girl, her role in society is different from her father's and brother's. Although limitations are placed on her, she is free to follow her own heart. This, to her, is the meaning of being "only a girl."
In conclusion, the elements of this short story work together very well to demonstrate the theme of the story. The narrator's conflict between filling a masculine role and accepting a feminine one, the contrast between her mother and her father, and the setting that is divided between the mother's domain and father's domain all build the effect of the theme well. This story gives a fresh look at the question of women's role in society through the eyes of a young girl.
Munro, Alice. "Boys and Girls." The Norton Introduction to Literature. Eds. Carl E. Bain, Jerome Beaty and J. Paul Hunter. 6th ed. New York: Norton, 1995. 465-75.
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