Alice Munro’s Boys and Girls Evolution of the Main Character


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Alice Munro’s Boys and Girls: Evolution of the Main Character


Boys and Girls is a short story authored by Alice Munro, a Canadian Nobel Prize winner in literature that focuses on gender roles in society. The setting of Munro’s short story is the mid-20th century in Canada. The story occurs in the 1940s on a fox farm on the outskirts of Jubilee, Ontario, Canada. The girl lives there with her immediate family that comprises his father, mother and younger brother Laird. Her life is characterized by various gender roles. They also live with a farmhand named Henry Bailey who is part of the family. Her father is decent, likable and understanding. Her mother wishes that her daughter would act more like a girl and help around the home. The main character in this story is an 11-year old girl that has not been given a name. The story is told from the girl’s point of view as she comes to terms with the expectations of womanhood and adulthood that await her. This essay discusses the evolution of the 11-year-old girl as the main character in the way they change from not wanting to carry out expected feminine duties to growing up and assuming womanhood. This short story is ideal for young adults that struggle to act according to societal expectations as they stand to benefit most from the lessons about evolving, just like the narrator.

Alice Munro, Author, Boys and Girls


The short story Boys and Girls is narrated in first person by the 11-year old girl who is also the main character in the story. In summary, the narrator tells a story about a girl’s coming of age. She narrates about her life at fox farm and the journey towards discovering her role as a girl. She starts by talking about her father, who was an ox farmer. She narrates the gruesome work of taking care of the foxes that he likes doing and how it disgusts her mother. The narrator says that she finds the smell of flesh and blood assuring. She and her brother work closely on their farm with the help of Henry who is their farmworker. The first-person narrator writes, I hated the hot dark kitchen in the summer” (pg. 530). This quote points to the fact that it came naturally that the girl hated performing house and kitchen duties that a lady was expected to perform. It shows that the girl did not want to conform to what society expected of her. Rather, she enjoyed staying outside and working with her father on the farm as it is what she deemed important.


The setting of Alice Munro’s short story ‘Boys and Girls’ is a fox farm just a few weeks to Christmas. The events take place on a fox farm in the countryside of Ontario, Canada. The narrator’s father keeps silver foxes on the farm before eventually killing, skinning and selling their pelts. The narrator states indirectly that her father’s farm is found in Canada because he says he sold pelts to Montreal Fur Traders and Hudson Bay, that are located in Canada. The story is set in the mid-twentieth century. There are pointers that the fox farm’s location is a farm located somewhere in the north with heavy snows and strong winds. Although the exact year is not indicated, the events that unfold occur at some point after the war (most probably World War II) when most farmers traded their horses for machinery. The narrator writes, “They were fed horsemeat. At this time, most farmers still kept horses, and when a horse got too old to work, or broke a leg or got down and would not get up, a they sometimes did, the owner would call my father….” The setting of the story is important because it informs the story of a girl that has to decide whether she is to become a tomboy or feminine. It speaks to the personal conflict that the narrator is facing at that particular point in time.


The girl faces various personal conflicts as well as with other characters in the story. The personal dilemma is whether she should abide by societal expectations and rest in her femininity or do what she enjoys doing most, which is taking care of the foxes in the farm with her father, brother, and worker. She conflicts with her mother, who is disgusted by her masculine tendencies. Her mother prefers her daughter to stay with her at home and help her with kitchen and other house-keeping duties. Her mother rarely left the house and longed for assistance around the house. When the narrator’s mother tries to get to work on tasks that were more ladylike, she rebels and says that “I hated the hot dark kitchen in the summer.” This is an indication it is not something that she enjoyed doing. She enjoyed staying outside the house and working alongside the men, while her mother wished for her to be more feminine.

Climax/Conflict Confrontation

Despite initially struggling with gender roles, eventually, the narrator gets accustomed to her role in society. At the time of the writing of this story, there was no equality and men were deemed dominant authorities in the family while women were expected to take care of the children and the home. She is forced to do women’s jobs that she does not enjoy doing. The girl is masculine in her behavior. The narrator voices that were taught to her as a child, such as “Girls don’t slam doors like that” and “Girls keep their knees together when they sit down.” Initially, she was defiant. She continued sitting awkwardly and slamming doors. However, she did not keep herself free. With time, she started changing and she began conforming to societal ideology about women. The girl struggled to come to terms with the role that she should play in society, but with time she loosened up and conformed to societal expectations.


In closing, the title of Alice Munro’s short story Boys and Girls speaks to the gender role theme that dominates the entire story. The title hints that the story is likely concerning a conflict or clash between boys and girls. True to its word, the story centers on the conflict in gender roles between boys and girls in society. The narrator’s character evolves significantly throughout the story. While she started as a rebellious young girl who refuses to conform to societal expectations of helping her mother in the kitchen, her attitude changes over time. She becomes accustomed to her role. The most important life lesson to take away from this story is that one should not fear to be themselves and speak their mind irrespective of what other people think about them. Fear did not stop the 11-year old narrator from going against societal norms and helping his father and brother on the farm. She did not fear defying her mother. Eventually, she ended up resting in her femininity and assisting her others around the house.

Works Cited

Munro, Alice. Boys and girls. Atlantis Films, 1983.