Alice Munro’s “Boys and Girls”Alice Munro’s short story, “Boys and Girls,” has a very interestingdetail written into it. The narrator’s brother is named Laird, which wascarefully chosen by the author. Laird is a synonym for lord, which plays aimportant role in a story where a young girl has society’s unwritten rulesforced upon her. At the time of the story, society did not consider men andwomen equal.The name symbolized how the male child was superior in theparents eyes and in general.Along with that, the name also symbolizes thedifference between the sexes when this story took place.
The time when this story took place was a time when men and women werenot equal. Mothers had traditional roles, which usually left them in the house,while men also had their roles, outside of the house. The male was the dominantfigure in the house, while the woman had to be subservient.It was an off thing to see my mother down at the barn. She did notoften come out of the house unless it was to do something – hang out the wash ordig potatoes in the garden. She looked out of place, with her bare lumpy legs,not touched by the sun, her apron still on and damp across the stomach from thesupper dishes.1The narrator had problems coming to terms with the role in life that shewas expected to lead. She wanted to work outside with her father doing the workthat she deemed important.
The mother tried to get the narrator to work insidedoing work deemed appropriate for a lady, however it was not something sheenjoyed. “I hated the hot dark kitchen in the summer” (p. 530).The narratorwas not considered of any consequential help to her father, simply because shewas female.”Could of fooled me,” said the salesman.
“I thought it was only a girl”(p. 529). Even though the narrator could do more work than her younger brother,she was still under appreciated.
“Wait till Laird gets a little bigger, thenyou’ll have a real help” (p. 530).Laird, on the other hand, was able to goout and do the things that he enjoyed. When Flora, the family’s horse, runsaway Laird is invited to join the father and his assistant to re-capture thehorse, while the narrator must stay at home.When the narrator is reminiscing of the past, she recalls a time whenshe lured Laird up to the top of the barn. The whole purpose of this idea wasto get Laird in trouble. However, when her parents come and remove Laird fromdanger, they are actually mad at her, instead of Laird.This shows how theparents were more concerned with their son and that he could do no wrong.
Thisreflects society’s notion at the time, how men were always right.My father came, my mother came, my father went up the ladder talkingvery quietly and brought Laird down under his arm, at which my mother leanedagainst the ladder and began to cry. They said to me, “Why weren’t you watchinghim?” (p. 534)The grandmother is the best example of how women were thought of at thetime.
She is from a time when there were even stricter rules of conduct forgirls. The narrator’s parents are more lackadaisical than the grandmother and alot less out-spoken. She voices what was taught to her when she was a child.
At the time of the story, girls were expected to be dainty and quaint, while aman was expected to be the rough and tumble one.”Girls don’t slam doors like that.” “Girls keep their knees together when theysit down.” And worse still, when I asked some questions, “That’s none of girls’business.” I continued to slam the doors and sit as awkwardly as possible,thinking that by such measures I kept myself free. (p. 532)The narrator, however, did not keep her self free. Eventually, she began tochange and to become a stereotypical female.
She began to conform to society’sidea’s about women.Near the end of the story, Laird starts to realize his sex-determinedsuperiority. He explains to his father and mother how Flora escaped from theyard and also starts listening to his father almost exclusively.”We shot old Flora,” he said, “and cut her up in fifty pieces.” “Well I don’twant to hear about it,” my mother said. “And don’t come to my table like that.
“My father made him go and wash the blood off. (p. 536)Laird washes the blood off only after his father tells him to do so. This showsthe dominance of males in the society of the time. Laird may field his mother’scomplains, but only does something about it once his father tells him to do so.This shows how his father is the authority figure, that his mother secondary tohis father.
Even the daughter thinks lowly of the mother in comparison to thefather. “It showed how little my mother knew about the way things really were”(p. 531).”Boys and Girls” takes place at a time where there is no such thing asequality between the sexes. Men in this society are the dominant, authoritarianheads of the house-hold whose work is done outside the home.
Women are expectedto look after the men and their work is done in the home. The narrator in “Boysand Girls” slowly becomes accustom with her role in society. The narrator andher brother symbolize the roles of males and females in that society. Thenarrator is forced into doing jobs that she doesn’t enjoy doing, namely thatassociated with women’s work at the time. Laird is allowed to do what hepleases. Laird is the lord, as a male he is deemed as the more important of thetwo, simply because of his sex, while the narrator cast into her womanly role,being of secondary importance.Bibliography1 Munro, Alice, “Boys and Girls,” Introduction to literature, eds. GillianThomas et al, third ed.
(Toronto: Hardcourt Brace, 1995), p. 528 All subsequentreferences will be from this edition and will be cited in the text. Category: English