Boys and Girls by Alice Munro
In Boys and Girls by Alice Munro we have the theme of innocence, gender roles, fear, growing up and connection. Taken from her Dance of the Happy Shades collection the story is narrated retrospectively by an unnamed woman and after reading the story the reader realises that Munro may be exploring the theme of innocence. Though not necessarily innocent of everything the narrator still remains innocent to some things. Particularly when it comes to her gender. She doesn’t understand that just because she is a girl that she will have to help her mother in the house. Also she will no longer help her father when her brother Laird grows up. All this is lost on the narrator who acts more like a stereotypical boy for most of the story. As she is older and taller than Laird the onus is on her to work the farm with her father and Henry.
The theme of fear is self-evident in the story. The narrator fears some of the things she gets Laird to do at her behest. She is also afraid of the clutter in her and Laird’s bedroom. Telling herself stories or singing in order to allay her fears. The stories that the narrator makes up could also be important. At the start of the story she is the heroine of all her stories but as she grows older she becomes reliant on others to help her. This may be significant as Munro may be suggesting that the narrator is changing, she is becoming a woman. Something that is clearer when the reader notices that the narrator takes more care of her side of the bedroom. Placing lace on the table. If anything the narrator is feminizing her world.
There may be some symbolism in the story that might be important. The silver foxes and the horses which are killed on the farm can be seen to symbolise a death of sorts for the narrator. Her childhood comes to an end when she allows Flora run through the gates. The narrator’s grandmother can also be seen to represent womanhood. She is set in her views as to what a girl or woman should be and how they should act. All of which is alien to the narrator. Laird acts to symbolise the next generation of masculinity. He has no fear when he sees Mack or Flora being killed unlike the narrator who only needs to see Mack killed and that is enough for her.
The end of the story is interesting as there seems to be a lack of connection. When Laird tells his father what the narrator has done. He calls her a ‘girl’ as though what she has done is to be expected from a girl. A once close relationship with her father ends and the narrator ends up crying. This is important because the narrator knows things will never be the same again and that she will be house bound and helping her mother. A life she loved and wanted to maintain has crumbled beneath her all because of her sex.