Since the beginning of time, gender roles have existed in society. Women are assigned the tasks of food preparation and childcare, while men perform most activities that require physical strength. Struggles against society's ideas of how gender roles should be, as well as threats of a feminist influence on some issues are found in "Boys and Girls" composition written by Alice Munro. In this story, the main character, who appears to be an unnamed girl, faces her awakening body and the challenge of developing her social identity in a man's world. Through first-person narration, Munro shows the girl's views of femininity by describing the girl's interpretations of her parents shaped by indoor and outdoor territoriality, criticism and variety of pressures directed at her by society and family members and the mysterious alterations in her personal night stories and behaviour towards Flora and Laird.
"Boys and Girls" is a story which emphasizes the invisible societal and parental forces that shape children, in this case, the narrator and her younger brother Laird, into gendered adults. One such invisible mechanism, necessary to the production of gendered adults, involves the division and control of space within the house and on the farm. This mechanism also further shapes the narrator's perception of her parents, as well as her identity. For example, as a farmer, the father is seen as a strong and independent character who cultivates wild animals. As the narrator explains, "he raised silver foxes in pens" (Munro, 491) where the pens are considered to be "medieval town" (493) in which bodies are confined and controlled. This image of the enclosure and distinction between inside and outside persists throughout the text. For example, at the beginning of the story the narrator says, "We were not afraid of outside though this was the time of year when snowdrifts curled around our
We were afraid of inside, the room where we slept" (492). Another example of territoriality is the dark, hot, stifling kitchen that captures the mother and threatens to imprison the narrator as she grows up. In addition to enclosing the foxes, the father in "Boys and Girls" also controls a specific space within the house. When not working outdoors, he carries out his activities in the white and intensely illuminated with light basement, which furthermore reflects his desire to control his territory. The narrator, however, remains unaware of the implications for some time. She feels safe in the male sphere and enjoys the "warm, safe, brightly lit underworld" (492). Further proof of the narrator's initial alignment with the father lies in her assurance that she is "his hired man" (494) who "works proudly and willingly under his eyes" (494). The relationship the narrator has with her mother, on the other hand, contrasts sharply. For example, during the day, rather than helping her mother in the house she assists her father in looking after his foxes. The mother, in narrator's impression, "does not belong to the powerful ruling elite" (495), but instead is seen as a subservient and vulnerable character who "cannot be trusted" (495). The mother is also seen as a sensitive woman who "in fact, disliked the whole pelting operation that what the killing, skinning, and preparation of the furs was called" (491). Despite narrator being a girl, she sees the work done outdoors as "ritualistically important" (495) and the work performed indoors as "endless, dreary and peculiarly depressing" (495). She also disgusted of her mother and instead wants to be as powerful and as admired as her dad. This is clearly stated on page 495 when the girl says, "she was plotting now to get me to stay in the house more, although she knew I hated it and keep me from working for my father." Another example where territoriality shapes narrator's views of femininity is seen when her father "hangs company's heroic calendars" (491) containing pictures of adventurers and conquest on the...
Cited: Forsyth, Louise. Amazing Space: 3rd ed. Shirley Neuman et al. Writing Canadian Women. Edmonton: Longspoon, 1986.
Munro, Alice. Boys and Girls. 5th ed. Isobel M. Findley et al. Introduction to Literature. Toronto: Nelson, 2004.
Munro, Alice. Boys and Girls. Dance of the Happy Shades. Toronto: McGraw Hill Ryerson, 1968.
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