Boys and Girls by Alice Munro (1964) with Analysis and PDF

Boys And Girls by Alice Munro (1964)

Boys and Girls” is a famous short story by Alice Munro, a famous Canadian writer and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature. The story delves into the concept of making of gender roles. In the story a young girl is involved in farm work along with her father which is quite rare in the time. The girl who is also the narrator of the short story is always assumed to be a boy by visitors to the farm. While she has expectations from her family of what a girl should be like and what she should do or not do, she does not want to do any work in her mother’s range of tasks because she does not like that kind of work.  Her role in the family began to change but eventually she is still type casted the same way by her family.

Boys And Girls by Alice Munro
Boys And Girls by Alice Munro

The short story “Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro was originally published in 1964 as a stand alone story and then it was included in a Alice Munro’s collection of short stories called as “Dance of the Happy Shades” in the year 1968. You can download a free PDF copy of Boys and Girls by Alice Munro right below. You can also download a PDF worksheet as well as the complete analysis below.

Table of contents – Boys and Girls

  1. Full Text – Boys and Girls Short story by Alice Munro
  2. Plot, Summary and Analysis – Boys and Girls
  3. Questions and Answers – Boys and Girls
  4. Boys and Girls – Full Text – PDF
  5. Worksheets PDF
  6. Analysis PDF
  7. Theme PDF
  8. Character Sketches PDF

Alice Munro

Alice Ann Munro is a very famous Canadian short story writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013. She was born 10 July 1931. Munro’s work has been described as revolutionizing the architecture of short stories, especially in its tendency to move forward and backward in time. Her stories have been said to “embed more than announce, reveal more than parade”.

Alice Munro published her first collection of stories, “Dance of the Happy Shades”, in the year 1968 and this story “Boys and Girls” was part of the collection. She won the Governor General’s Award, then Canada’s highest literary prize for the short story collection. She then went on to publish “Lives of Girls and Women” in 1971, a second collection of short stories. In 1978, Alice Munro published her third collection of stories “Who Do You Think You Are?” and this won her a a second Governor General’s Literary Award.

Boys and Girls by Alice Munro – Short Story Full Text

My father was a fox farmer. That is, he raised silver foxes, in pens; and in the fall and early winter, when their fur was prime, he killed them and skinned them and sold their pelts to the Hudson’s
Bay Company or the Montreal Fur Traders. These companies supplied us with heroic calendars to hang, one on each side of the kitchen door. Against a background of cold blue sky and black
pine forests and treacherous northern rivers, plumed adventures planted the flags of England and or of France; magnificent savages bent their backs to the portage.

For several weeks before Christmas, my father worked after supper in the cellar of our house. the cellar was whitewashed , and lit by a hundred-watt bulb over the worktable. My brother Laird
and I sat on the top step and watched. My father removed the pelt inside-out from the body of the fox, which looked surprisingly small, mean, and rat-like, deprived of its arrogant weight of fur. The naked, slippery bodies were collected in a sack and buried in the dump. One time the hired man, Henry Bailey, had taken a swipe at me with this sack, saying, “Christmas present!”

My mother thought that was not funny. In fact she disliked the whole pelting operation–that was what the killing, skinning, and preparation of the furs was called – and wished it did not have to
take place in the house. There was the smell. After the pelt had been stretched inside-out on a long board my father scraped away delicately, removing the little clotted webs of blood vessels, the
bubbles of fat; the smell of blood and animal fat, which the strong primitive odor of the fox itself, penetrated all parts of the house. I found it reassuringly seasonal, like the smell of oranges and pine needles.

Henry Bailey suffered from bronchial troubles. He would cough and cough until his narrow face turned scarlet, and his light blue, derisive eyes filled up with tears; then he took the lid off the stove, and, standing well back, shot out a great clot of phlegm – hss – straight into the heart of the flames. We admired his for this performance and for his ability to make his stomach growl at will, and for his laughter, which was full of high whistlings and gurglings and involved the whole faulty machinery of his chest. It was sometimes hard to tell what he was laughing at, and always
possible that it might be us.

After we had sent to be we could still smell fox and still hear Henry’s laugh, but these things reminders of the warm, safe, brightly lit downstairs world, seemed lost and diminished, floating on the stale cold air upstairs. We were afraid at nigh in the winter. We were not afraid of outside though this was the time of year when snowdrifts curled around our house like sleeping whales and the wind harassed us all night, coming up from the buried fields, the frozen swamp, with its old bugbear chorus of threats and misery.

We were afraid of inside, the room where we slept. At this
time upstairs of our house was not finished. A brick chimney went up on wall. In the middle of the floor was a square hole, with a wooden railing around it; that was where the stairs came up. On the other side of the stairwell wee the things that nobody had any use for anymore – a soldiery roll of linoleum, standing on end, a wicker bay carriage, a fern basket, china jugs and basins with
cracks in them, a picture of the Battle of Balaclava, very sad to look at.

I had told Laird, as soon as he was old enough to understand such things, that bats and skeletons lived over there; whenever a man escaped from the county jail, twenty miles away, I imagined that he had somehow let himself in the window and was hiding behind the linoleum. But we had rules to keep us safe.

When the light was on, we were safe as long as we did not step off the square of worn carpet which defined our bedroom-space; when the light was off no place was safe but the beds themselves. I had to turn out the light kneeling on the end of my bed, and stretching as far as I could to reach the cord. In the dark we lay on our beds, our narrow life rafts, and fixed our eyes on the faint light coming up the stairwell, and sang songs.

Laird sang “Jingle Bells”, which he would sing any time, whether it was Christmas or not, and I sang “Danny Boy”. I loved the sound of my own voice, frail and supplicating, rising in the dark. We
could make out the tall frosted shapes of the windows now, gloomy and white. When I came to the part, y the cold sheets but by pleasurable emotions almost silenced me. You’ll kneel and say
an Ave there above me —What was an Ave? Every day I forgot to find out.

Laird went straight from singing to sleep, I could hear his long, satisfied, bubbly breaths. Now for the time that remained to me, the most perfectly private and perhaps the best time of the whole day, I arranged myself tightly under the covers and went on with  one of the stories I was telling myself from night to night. These stories were about myself, when I had grown a little older; they took place in a world that was recognizably mine, yet one that presented opportunities for courage, boldness, and self-sacrifice, as mine never did.

I rescued people from a bombed building (it discouraged me that the real war had gone on so far away from Jubilee). I shot two rabid wolves who were menacing the schoolyard (the teachers cowered terrified at my back). Rode a fine horse spiritedly down the main street of Jubilee, acknowledging the townspeople’s gratitude for some yet-to-be worked-out piece of heroism (nobody ever rode a horse there, except King Billy in the Orangemen’s Day parade).

There was always riding and shooting in these stories, though I had only been on a horse twice — the first because we did not own a saddle — and the second time I had slid right around and dropped under the horse’s feet; it had stepped placidly over me. I really was learning to shoot, but could not hit anything yet, not even tin cans on fence posts.

Alive, the foxes inhabited a world my father made for them. It was surrounded by a high guard fence, like a medieval town, with a gate that was padlocked at night. Along the streets of this town were ranged large, sturdy pens. Each of them had a real door that a man could go through, a wooden ramp along the wire, for the foxes to run up and down on, and a kennel — sometimes like a clothes chest with airholes — where they slept where they slept and stayed in winter and had their young.

There were feeding and watering dishes attached to the wire in such a way that they could be emptied and cleaned from the outside. The dishes were made of old tin cans, and the ramps and kennels of odds and ends of old lumber. Everything was tidy and ingenious; my father was tirelessly inventive and his favorite book in the world was Robinson Crusoe. He had fitted a tin drum on a wheelbarrow, for bringing water down to the pens. This was my job in the summer, when the foxes had to have water twice a day.

Between nine and ten o’clock in the morning, and again after supper. I filled the drum at the pump and trundled it down through the barnyard to the pens, where I parked it, and filled my watering can and went along the streets. Laird came too, with his little cream and green gardening can, filled too full and knocking against his legs and slopping water on his canvas shoes. I had the real watering can, my father’s, though I could only carry it three-quarters full.

The foxes all had names, which were printed on a tin plate and hung beside their doors. They were not named when they were born, but when they survived the first year’s pelting and were added to the breeding stock. Those my father had named were called names like Prince, Bob, Wally, and Betty. Those I had named were called Star or Turk, or Maureen or Diana. Laird named one Maude after a hired girl we had when he was little, one Harold after a boy at school, and one Mexico, he did not say why.

Naming them did not make pets out of them, or anything like it. Nobody but my father ever went into the pens, and he had twice had blood-poisoning from bites. When I was bringing them their
water they prowled up and down on the paths they had made inside their pens, barking seldom — they saved that for nighttime, when they might get up a chorus of community frenzy–but always
watching me, their eyes burning, clear gold, in their pointed, malevolent faces. They were beautiful for their delicate legs and heavy, aristocratic tails and the bright fur sprinkled on dark down
their back — which gave them their name — but especially for their faces, drawn exquisitely sharp in pure hostility, and their golden eyes.

Besides carrying water I helped my father when he cut the long grass, and the lamb’s quarter and flowering money-musk, that grew between the pens. He cut with they scythe and I raked into piles. Then he took a pitchfork and threw fresh-cut grass all over the top of the pens to keep the foxes cooler and shade their coats, which were browned by too much sun. My father did not talk to me unless it was about the job we were doing.

In this he was quite different from my mother, who, if she was feeling cheerful, would tell me all sorts of things – the name of a dog she had had when she was a little girl, the names of boys she had gone out with later on when she was grown up, and what certain dresses of hers had looked like – she could not imagine now what had become of them. Whatever thoughts and stories my father had were private, and I was shy of him and would never ask him questions.

Nevertheless I worked willingly under his eyes, and with a feeling of pride. One time a feed salesman came down into the pens to talk to him and my father said, “Like to have you meet my new hired hand.” I turned away and raked furiously, red in the face with pleasure.

“Could of fooled me.” said the salesman. “I thought it was only a girl.”

After the grass was cut, it seemed suddenly much later in the year. I walked on stubble in the earlier evening aware of the reddening skies, on entering silence of fall. When I wheeled the tank out of the gates and put padlocks on. It was almost dark. One night at this time I saw my mother and father standing talking on the little rise of ground we called the gangway, in front of the barn.

My father had just come from the meathouse; he had his stiff bloody apron on, and a pail of cut-up meat in his hand. It was an odd thing to see my mother down at the barn. She did not often come out of the house unless it was to do something – hang out the wash or dig 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 the supper dishes. Her hair was tied up in a kerchief, wisps of it falling out. She would tie her hair up like this in the morning, saying she did not have time to do it properly, and it would stay tied up all day. It was true, too; she really did not have time.

These days our back porch was piled with baskets of peaches and grapes and pears, bought in town, and onions an tomatoes and cucumbers grown at home, all waiting to be made into jelly and jam and preserves, pickles and chili sauce. In the kitchen there was a fire in the stove all day, jars clinked in boiling water, sometimes a cheesecloth bag was strung on a pole between two chairs straining blue-back grape pulp for jelly. I was given jobs to do and I would sit at the table peeling peaches that had been soaked in hot water, or cutting up onions, my eyes smarting and streaming. As soon as I was done I ran out of the house, trying to get out of earshot before my mother thought of what she wanted me to do next.

I hated the hot dark kitchen in summer, the green blinds and the flypapers, the same old oilcloth table and wavy mirror and bumpy linoleum. My mother was too tired and preoccupied to talk to me, she had no heart to tell about the Normal School Graduation Dance; sweat trickled over her face and she was always counting under breath, pointing at jars, dumping cups of sugar. It seemed to me that work in the house was endless, dreary, and peculiarly depressing; work done out of doors, and in my father’s service, was ritualistically important.

I wheeled the tank up tot he barn, where it was kept, and I heard my mother saying, “Wait till Laird gets a little bigger, then you’ll have a real help.”

What my father said I did not hear. I was pleased by the way he stood listening, politely as he would to a salesman or a stranger, but with an air of wanting to get on with his real work. I felt my mother had no business down here and I wanted him to feel the same way. What did she mean about Laird? He was no help to anybody. Where was he now? Swinging himself sick on the swing,
going around in circles, or trying to catch caterpillars. He never once stayed with me till I was finished.

“And then I can use her more in the house,” I heard my mother say.

She had a dead-quiet regretful way of talking about me that always made me uneasy.

“I just get my back turned and she runs off. It’s not like I had a girl in the family at all.”

I went and sat on a feed bag in the corner of the barn, not wanting to appear when this conversation was going on. My mother, I felt, was not to be trusted. She was kinder than my father and more easily fooled, but you could not depend on her, and the real reasons for the things she said and did were not to be known. She loved me, and she sat up late at night making a dress of the difficult style I wanted, for me to wear when school started, but she was also my enemy.

She was always plotting. She was plotting now to get me to stay in the house more, although she knew I hated it (because she knew I hated it) and keep me from working for my father. It seemed to me she would do this simply out of perversity, and to try her power. It did not occur to me that she could be lonely, or jealous. No grown-up could be; they were too fortunate.

I sat and kicked my heels monotonously against a feed bag, raising dust, and did not come out till she was gone. At any rate, I did not expect my father to pay any attention to what she said. Who could imagine Laird doing my work – Laird remembering the padlock and cleaning out the watering dishes with a leaf on the end of a stick, or even wheeling the tank without it tumbling over? It showed how little my mother knew about the way things really were.

I had forgotten to say what the foxes were fed. My father’s bloody apron reminded me. 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, as they sometimes did , the owner would call my father, and he and Henry went out to the farm in the truck. Usually they shot and butchered the horse there, paying the farmer from five to twelve dollars. If they had already too much meat on hand, they would bring the horse back alive, and keep it for a few days or weeks in our stable, until the meat was needed.

After the war the farmers were buying tractors and gradually getting rid of horses, that there was just no use for any more. If this happened in the winter we might keep the horse in our stable till spring, for we had plenty of hay and if there was a lot of snow – and the plow did not always get our roads cleared – it was convenient to be able to go to town with a horse and cutter.

The winter I was eleven years old we had two horses in the stable. We did not know what names they had had before, so we called them Mack and Flora. Mack was an old black workhorse, sooty and indifferent. Flora was a sorrel mare, a driver. We took them both out in the cutter. Mack was slow and easy to handle. Flora was given to fits of violent alarm, veering at cars and even at other horses, but we loved her speed and high-stepping, her general air of gallantry and abandon. On Saturdays we wen down to the stable and as soon as we opened the door on its cozy,  animal smelling darkness.

Flora threw up her head, rolled here eyes, whinnied despairingly, and pulled herself through a crisis of nerves on the spot. It was not safe to go into her stall, she would kick. This winter also I began to hear a great deal more on the theme my mother had sounded when she had been talking in front of the barn. I no longer felt safe. It seemed that in the minds of the people around me there was a steady undercurrent of thought, not to be deflected, on this one subject.

The word girl had formerly seemed to me innocent and unburdened like the word child; now it appeared that it was no such thing. A girl was not, as I had supposed, simply what I was; it was what I had to become. It was a definition, always touched with emphasis, with reproach and disappointment. Also it was a joke on me. Once Laird and I were fighting, and for the first time ever I had to use all my strength against him; even so, he caught and pinned my arm for a moment, really hurting me.

Henry saw this, and laughed, saying, “Oh, that there Laird’s gonna show you, one of these days!”

Laird was getting a lot bigger. But I was getting bigger too. My grandmother came to stay with us for a few weeks and I heard other things. “Girls don’t slam doors like that.”

“Girls keep their knees together when they sit 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. When spring came, the horses were let out in the barnyard. Mack stood against the barn wall trying to scratch his neck and haunches, but Flora trotted up and down and reared at the fences, clattering her hooves against the rails. Snow drifts dwindled quickly, revealing the hard gray and brown earth, the familiar rise and fall of the ground, plain and bare after the fantastic landscape of winter. There was a great feeling of opening-out, of release.

We just wore rubbers now, over our shoes; our feet felt ridiculously light. One Saturday we went out to the stable and found all the doors open, letting in the unaccustomed sunlight and fresh air. Henry was there, just idling around looking at his collection of calendars which were tacked up behind the stalls in a part of the stable my mother probably had never seen.

“Come say goodbye to your old friend Mack?” Henry said.

“Here, you give him a taste of oats.”

He poured some oats into Laird’s cupped hands and Laird went to feed Mack. Mack’s teeth were in bad shape. He ate very slowly, patiently shifting the oats around in his mouth, trying to find a stump of a molar to grind it on.

“Poor old Mack, said Henry mournfully. “When a horse’s teethes gone, he’s gone. That’s about the way.”

“Are you going to shoot him today?” I said.

Mack and Flora had been in the stables so long I had almost forgotten they were going to be shot. Henry didn’t answer me. Instead he started to sing in a high, trembly, mocking-sorrowful voice. Oh, there’s no more work, for poor Uncle Ned, he’s gone where the good darkies go. Mack’s thick, blackish tongue worked diligently at Laird’s hand. I went out before the song was ended and sat down on the gangway. I had never seen them shot a horse, but I knew where it was done.

Last summer Laird and I had come upon a horse’s entrails before they were buried. We had thought it was a big black snake, coiled up in the sun. That was around in the field that ran up beside the barn. I thought that if we went inside the barn, and found a wide crack or a knothole to look through, we would be able to see them do it. It was not something I wanted to see; just the same, if a thing really happened it was better to see, and know.

My father came down from the house, carrying a gun.

“What are you doing here?” he said.


“Go on up and play around the house.”

He sent Laird out of the stable. I said to Laird, “Do you want to see them shoot Mack?” and without waiting for an answer led him around to the front door of the barn, opened it carefully, and went in.

“Be quiet or they’ll hear us,” I said. We could hear Henry and my father talking in the stable; then the heavy shuffling steps of Mack being backed out of his stall.

In the loft it was cold and dark. Thin crisscrossed beams of sunlight fell through the cracks. The hay was low. It was rolling country, hills and hollows, slipping under our feet. About four feet
up was a beam going around the walls, We piled hay up in one corned and I boosted Laird up and hoisted myself. The beam was not very wide; we crept along it with our hands flat on the barn
walls. There were plenty of knotholes, and I found one that gave me the view I wanted – a corner of the barnyard, the gate, part of the field. Laird did not have a knothole and began to complain.

I showed him a widened crack between two boards. “Be quiet and wait. If they hear you you’ll get us in trouble.”

My father came in sight carrying the gun. Henry was leading Mack by the halter. He dropped it and took out his cigarette papers and tobacco; he rolled cigarettes for my father and himself. While
this was going on Mack nosed around in the old, dead grass along the fence. Then my father opened the gate and they took Mack through. Henry led Mack away from the path to a patch of ground and they talked together, not loud enough for us to hear.

Mack again began to searching for a mouthful of fresh grass, which was not found. My father walked away in a straight line, and stopped short at a distance which seemed to suit him. Henry was walking away from Mack too, but sideways, still negligently holding on to the halter. My father raised the gun and Mack looked up as if he had noticed something and my father shot him.

Mack did not collapse at once but swayed, lurched sideways, and fell, first on his side; then he rolled over on his back and, amazingly, kicked his legs for a few seconds in the air. At this
Henry laughed, as if Mack had done a trick for him. Laird, who had drawn a long, groaning breath of surprise when the shot was fired, said out loud, “He’s not dead.” And it seemed to me it might
be true. But his legs stopped, he rolled on his side again, his muscles quivered and sank. The two men walked over and looked at him in a businesslike way; they bent down and examined his
forehead where the bullet had gone in, and now I saw his blood on the brown grass.

“Now they just skin him and cut him up,” I said.

“Let’s go.” My legs were a little shaky and I jumped gratefully down into the hay.

“Now you’ve seen how they shoot a horse,” I said in a congratulatory way, as if I had seen it many times before.

“Let’s see if any barn cats had kittens in the hay.”

Laird jumped. He seemed young and obedient again. Suddenly I remembered how, when he was little, I had brought him into the barn and told him to climb the ladder to the top beam. That was in the spring, too, when the hay was low. I had done it out of a need for excitement, a desire for something to happen so that I could tell about it. He was wearing a little bulky brown and white checked coat, made down from one of mine. He went all the way up just as I told him, and sat down from one of the beam with the hay far below him on one side, and the barn floor and some old machinery on the other. Then I ran screaming to my father.

“Laird’s up on the top beam!” My father came, my mother came, my father went up the ladder talking very quietly and brought Laird down under his arm, at which my mother leaned against the ladder and began to cry. They said to me, “Why weren’t you watching him?” but nobody ever knew the truth. Laird did not know enough to tell. But whenever I saw the brown and white checked coat hanging in the closet , or at the bottom of the rag bag, which was where it ended up, I felt a weight in my stomach, the sadness of unexorcised guilt.

I looked at Laird, who did not even remember this, and I did not like the look on this thing, winter-paled face. His expression was not frightened or upset, but remote, concentrating.

“Listen,” I said in an unusually bright and friendly voice, “you aren’t going to tell, are you?”

“No,” he said absently.


“Promise,” he said. I grabbed the hand behind his back to make sure he was not crossing his fingers. Even so, he might have a nightmare; it might come out that way. I decided I had better work
hard to get all thoughts of what he had seen out of his mind – which, it seemed to m, could not hold very many things at a time. I got some money I had saved and that afternoon we went into
Jubilee and saw a show, with Judy Canova, at which we both laughed a great deal. After that I thought it would be all right.

Two weeks later I knew they were going to shoot Flora. I knew from the night before, when I heard my mother ask if the hay was holding out all right, and my father said, “Well, after tomorrow
there’ll just be the cow, and we should be able to put her out to grass in another week.” So I knew it was Flora’s turn in the morning.

This time I didn’t think of watching it. That was something to see just one time. I had not thought about it very often since, but sometimes when I was busy, working at school, or standing in front of the mirror combing my hair and wondering if I would be pretty when I grew up, the whole seen would flash into my mind: I would see the easy, practiced way my father raised the gun, and
hear Henry laughing when Mack kicked his legs in the air. I did not have any great feelings of horror and opposition, such as a city child might have had; I was too used to seeing the death of animals as a necessity by which we lived.

Yet I felt a little ashamed, and there was a new wariness, a sense of holding-off, in my attitude to my father and his work. It was a fine day, and we were going around the yard picking up tree branches that had been torn off in winter storms. This was something we had been told to do, and also we wanted to use them to make a teepee. We hard Flora whinny, and then my father’s
voice and Henry’s shouting, and we ran down to the barnyard to see what was going on.

The stable door was open. Henry had just brought Flora out, and she had broken away from him. She was running free in the barnyard, from one end to the other. We climbed on the fence. It
was exciting to see her running, whinnying, going up on her hind legs, prancing and threatening like a horse in a Western movie, an unbroken ranch horse, though she was just an old driver, an old sorrel mare. My father and Henry ran after her and tried to grab the dangling halter. They tried to work her into a corner, and they had almost succeeded when she made a run between them, wild-eyed, and disappeared round the corner of the barn.

We heard the rails clatter down as she got over the fence, and Henry yelled. “She’s into the field now!”

That meant she was in the long L-shaped field that ran up by the house. If she got around the center, heading towards the lane, the gate was open; the truck had been driven into the filed this
morning. My father shouted to me, because I was on the other side of the fence, nearest the lane, “Go shut the gate!”

I could run very fast. I ran across the garden, past the tree where our swing was hung, and jumped across a ditch into the lane. There was the open gate. She had not got out, I could not see her up on the road; she must have run to the other end of the field,. There gate was heavy. I lifted it out of the gravel and carried it across the roadway. I had it half way across when she came in sight,
galloping straight toward me. There was just time to get the chain on.

Laird came scrambling though the ditch to help me. Instead of shutting the gate, I opened it as wide as I could. I did not make any decision to do this, it was just what I did. Flora never slowed down; she galloped straight past me, and Laird jumped up and down, yelling, “Shut it, shut it!” even after it was too late. My father and Henry appeared in the field a moment too late to see
what I had done. They only saw Flora heading for the township road. They would think I had not got there in time.

They did not waste any time asking about it. They went back to the barn and got the gun and the knives they used, and put these in the truck; then they turned the truck around and came bounding up the field toward us.

Laird called to them, “Let me got too, let me go too!” and Henry stopped the truck and they took him in. I shut the gate after they were all gone. I supposed Laird would tell. I wondered what would happen to me. I had never disobeyed my father before, and I could not understand why I had done it. I had done it. Flora would not really get away. They would catch up with her in the truck. Or if they did not catch her this morning somebody would see her and telephone us this afternoon or tomorrow.

There was no wild country here for her, we needed the meat to feed the foxes, we needed the foxes to make our living. All I had done was make more work for my father who worked hard enough already. And when my father found out about it he was not going to  trust me any more; he would know that I was not entirely on his side. I was on Flora’s side, and that made me no use to anybody, not even to her. Just the same, I did not regret it; when she came running at me I held the gate open, that was the only thing I could do.

I went back to the house, and my mother said, “What’s all the commotion?”

I told her that Flora had kicked down the fence and got away. “Your poor father,” she said, “now he’ll have to go chasing over the countryside. Well, there isn’t any use planning dinner before one.”

She put up the ironing board. I wanted to tell her, but thought better of it and went upstairs and sat on my bed. Lately I had been trying to make my part of the room fancy, spreading the bed with old lace curtains, and fixing myself a dressing table with some leftovers of cretonne for a skirt. I planned to put up some kind of barricade between my bed and Laird’s, to keep my section separate from his. In the sunlight, the lace curtains were just dusty rags. We did not sing at night any more.

One night when I was singing Laird said, “You sound silly,” and I went right on but the next night I did not start. There was not so much need to anyway, we were no longer afraid. We knew it was just old furniture over there, old jumble and confusion. We did not keep to the rules. I still stayed away after Laird was asleep and told myself stories, but even in these stories something different was happening, mysterious alterations took place.

A story might start off in the old way, with a spectacular danger, a fire or wild animals, and for a while I might rescue people; then things would change around, and instead, somebody would be rescuing me. It might be a boy from our class at school, or even Mr. Campbell, our teacher, who tickled girls under the arms. And at this point the story concerned itself at great length with what I looked like – how long my hair was, and what kind of dress I had on; by the time I had these details worked out the real excitement of the story was lost.

It was later than one o’clock when the truck came back. The tarpaulin was over the back, which meant there was meat in it. My mother had to heat dinner up all over again. Henry and my father
had changed from their bloody overalls into ordinary working overalls in the barn, and they washed arms and necks and faces at the sink, and splashed water on their hair and combed it. Laird
lifted his arm to show off a streak of blood.

“We shot old Flora,” he said, “and cut her up in fifty pieces.”

“Well I don’t want to hear about it,” my mother said. “And don’t come to my table like that.”

My father made him go was the blood off. We sat down and my father said grace and Henry pasted his chewing gum on the end of his fork, the way he always did; when he took it off he would have us admire the pattern. We began to pass the bowls of steaming, overcooked vegetables.

Laird looked across the table at me and said proudly distinctly, “Anyway it was her fault Flora got away.”

“What?” my father aid.

“She could of shut the gate and she didn’t. She just open’ it up and Flora ran out.”

“Is that right?” my father said.

Everybody at the table was looking at me. I nodded, swallowing food with great difficulty. To my shame, tears flooded my eyes.

My father made a curt sound of disgust. “What did you do that for?”

I didn’t answer. I put down my fork and waited to be sent from the table, still not looking up. But this did not happen. For some time nobody said anything, then Laird said matter-of-factly, “She’s crying.”

“Never mind,” my father said. He spoke with resignation, even good humor the words which absolved and dismissed me for good.

“She’s only a girl,” he said

I didn’t protest that, even in my heart. Maybe it was true.

Questions and Answers – Boys and Girls – Set 1

1. Question: How does the narrator, a young girl, perceive her role within her family at the beginning of the story?

  • Answer: At the beginning of the story, the narrator sees herself as an assistant to her father, helping with tasks around the farm. She identifies more with her father’s work and the responsibilities traditionally associated with males.

2. Question: How does the narrator’s perception of her identity and role change as the story progresses?

  • Answer: As the story unfolds, the narrator becomes increasingly aware of societal expectations regarding gender roles. She grapples with the pressure to conform to traditional feminine roles and experiences a growing sense of rebellion against the limitations placed on her due to her gender.

3. Question: What is the significance of the fox farm in the story?

  • Answer: The fox farm is a central element in the story, symbolizing the traditional roles assigned to men and women in the narrator’s society. The fox farm represents the father’s domain, while the household chores symbolize the mother’s domain. The narrator’s resistance to working in the house and her desire to be involved in the fox farm reflect her struggle against societal expectations.

4. Question: How does the relationship between the narrator and Laird (her younger brother) evolve throughout the story?

  • Answer: Initially, the narrator sees Laird as an ally in her father’s world. However, as Laird begins to embrace his expected role as a boy, the distance between them grows. The story highlights the impact of societal expectations on familial relationships and the inevitable separation that occurs as children conform to prescribed gender roles.

5. Question: What role does the horse play in the story, and how does it contribute to the narrator’s understanding of gender roles?

  • Answer: The horse represents a bridge between the narrator’s desire for freedom and her recognition of societal expectations. Riding the horse allows the narrator to experience a sense of liberation, but the realization that she cannot keep the horse underscores the limitations imposed on her due to her gender.

Questions and Answers – Boys and Girls – Set 2

6. Question: How does the title “Boys and Girls” encapsulate the central theme of the story?

  • Answer: The title reflects the story’s exploration of gender roles and societal expectations. It emphasizes the distinctions and constraints placed on individuals based on their gender, highlighting the challenges the narrator faces as she navigates the expectations associated with being a “girl” in her community.

7. Question: How does the narrator’s relationship with her mother evolve throughout the story, and what role does the mother play in shaping the narrator’s understanding of gender roles?

  • Answer: Initially, the narrator shares a closer bond with her father, but as she becomes aware of societal expectations, her relationship with her mother takes on new significance. The mother represents the traditional female role, and the narrator’s observations of her mother’s duties contribute to her growing awareness of the limitations imposed on women.

8. Question: What is the significance of the pelt-cutting scene in the story, and how does it mark a turning point for the narrator?

  • Answer: The pelt-cutting scene is a pivotal moment where the narrator realizes the consequences of resisting traditional gender roles. Her father’s disappointment and disapproval following this incident make her aware of the societal consequences of challenging prescribed norms, marking a turning point in her understanding of her role.

9. Question: How does the changing seasons and the arrival of winter contribute to the story’s themes and the narrator’s experiences?

  • Answer: The changing seasons symbolize the progression of time and the inevitability of change. Winter, in particular, represents a harsh reality and serves as a metaphor for the societal expectations that become increasingly stringent, forcing the narrator to confront the limitations placed on her as a girl.

10. Question: Discuss the symbolism of the foxes in the story and their connection to the narrator’s struggle with identity and societal expectations.

  • Answer: The foxes represent the wild and untamed aspects of the narrator’s identity. The juxtaposition of the domesticated foxes on the farm and the wild foxes in the wilderness mirrors the narrator’s internal conflict between conforming to societal expectations and embracing her own untamed spirit.

Questions and Answers – Boys and Girls – Set 3

11. Question: How does the ending of the story reflect the narrator’s acceptance of her prescribed gender role, and what does it suggest about the cost of conformity?

  • Answer: The ending sees the narrator conforming to her expected role as a girl, participating in domestic tasks and abandoning her earlier desire for freedom. This conclusion highlights the societal pressure to conform and suggests that embracing prescribed gender roles often comes at the cost of sacrificing one’s individuality and desires.

12. Question: In what ways does the story explore the theme of loss, and how does the narrator grapple with the losses she experiences?

  • Answer: The story explores various forms of loss, including the loss of personal freedom, the loss of the horse, and the loss of the narrator’s own sense of identity. The narrator grapples with these losses as she navigates the expectations imposed on her, highlighting the emotional toll of conforming to societal norms.

13. Question: How does the narrator’s perception of femininity change as she becomes more aware of societal expectations?

  • Answer: Initially, the narrator associates femininity with confinement and limitation. As she becomes more aware of societal expectations, her perception of femininity evolves, and she realizes the strict roles assigned to women in her community. This realization prompts her internal conflict and rebellion against these expectations.

14. Question: Discuss the role of the horse in the story as a symbol of freedom and rebellion. How does the horse impact the narrator’s understanding of her own desires?

  • Answer: The horse represents freedom and serves as a symbol of rebellion for the narrator. Riding the horse allows her to break away momentarily from the prescribed gender roles and experience a sense of liberation. The horse becomes a catalyst for the narrator’s understanding of her own desires and the limitations imposed by societal expectations.

15. Question: Explore the significance of the narrator’s involvement in the “boy’s work” on the fox farm. How does this challenge traditional gender roles, and what impact does it have on the narrator’s sense of identity?

  • Answer: The narrator’s involvement in “boy’s work” challenges traditional gender roles, as it goes against the expected division of labor. This experience allows the narrator to momentarily step into a role typically reserved for boys, providing her with a sense of identity and purpose that deviates from societal norms.

Questions and Answers – Boys and Girls – Set 4

16. Question: How does the story address the theme of conformity and the societal pressures to adhere to gender roles?

  • Answer: “Boys and Girls” delves into the theme of conformity by portraying the societal pressures placed on individuals to adhere to prescribed gender roles. The narrator grapples with the expectations of being a “girl” and the consequences of resisting these expectations. The story serves as a commentary on the societal norms that dictate behavior and identity.

17. Question: Discuss the role of the foxes’ escape in the story and its connection to the narrator’s desire for freedom.

  • Answer: The escape of the foxes symbolizes the narrator’s own longing for freedom and autonomy. The wild foxes breaking free from confinement mirror the narrator’s internal struggle to break away from societal expectations. The event underscores the universal desire for independence and the challenges of achieving it within a rigid societal framework.

18. Question: How does the story use the narrator’s relationships with her father and Laird to explore gender dynamics and expectations within the family?

  • Answer: The relationships with the father and younger brother, Laird, illustrate the gender dynamics within the family. The father, representing the traditional male role, is the authority figure, while Laird begins to conform to societal expectations for boys. These relationships contribute to the narrator’s evolving understanding of gender roles within her familial context.

19. Question: Consider the symbolism of the title, “Boys and Girls.” How does the title encapsulate the central themes of the story?

  • Answer: The title captures the central themes of the story by highlighting the strict divisions and expectations associated with gender. It emphasizes the societal norms and expectations placed on individuals based on their gender, encapsulating the challenges and conflicts faced by the characters in negotiating their identities within these constraints.

20. Question: How does the story address the complexity of individual identity within the context of societal expectations?

  • “Boys and Girls” explores the complexity of individual identity by depicting the internal conflict of the narrator as she grapples with societal expectations. The story delves into the challenges of maintaining a sense of self while navigating the pressures to conform to prescribed gender roles, providing a nuanced exploration of identity within a societal framework.

“Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro – Irony

“Irony” plays a significant role in Alice Munro’s “Boys and Girls,” contributing to the complexity of the narrative and the exploration of gender roles. Here are several instances of irony within the story:

  1. Title Irony:
    • The title itself, “Boys and Girls,” carries irony. While seemingly straightforward, it sets up expectations about the traditional roles of boys and girls in society. However, the story unfolds as a subversion of these expectations, revealing the limitations and challenges imposed by societal norms on the protagonist.
  2. Narrator’s Initial Enthusiasm:
    • In the beginning, the narrator expresses enthusiasm for the more physically demanding and traditionally male tasks on the farm. There is a sense of pride in being associated with the more esteemed “boys’ work.” However, as the story progresses, this enthusiasm gives way to a realization of the societal constraints that come with gender expectations, adding an ironic layer to her initial excitement.
  3. The Horse as a Symbol of Freedom:
    • The horse, a powerful symbol of freedom and rebellion, becomes ironically symbolic of the limitations imposed by societal expectations. The narrator’s joy in riding the horse represents a brief escape from traditional gender roles. However, the realization that she cannot keep the horse mirrors the inevitability of conforming to societal norms, marking an ironic twist in her pursuit of freedom.
  4. The Foxes’ Escape:
    • The escape of the foxes from their domesticated life is ironic in its symbolism. The foxes, confined to cages on the farm, represent the societal constraints on the narrator. Their escape mirrors the narrator’s desire for freedom but also foreshadows the challenges and consequences of breaking away from prescribed gender roles.
  5. The Pelt-Cutting Scene:
    • The scene where the father and Laird cut pelts serves as a moment of irony. The narrator’s initial excitement to participate in what she considers “boys’ work” turns ironic when she is excluded from the actual cutting. This scene highlights the rigid gender roles in the family and society, undercutting the narrator’s earlier expectations of equality.
  6. Winter as a Metaphor:
    • The arrival of winter, often associated with harshness and coldness, serves as a metaphor for the societal expectations that become more stringent as the story progresses. The irony lies in the juxtaposition of the narrator’s internal warmth, symbolized by her desire for freedom, against the external coldness of societal norms.
  7. The Mother’s Unspoken Resignation:
    • The mother’s adherence to traditional female roles, though not explicitly stated, is ironic in its silent resignation. Her acceptance of her prescribed role contrasts with the narrator’s initial rebellion, emphasizing the generational perpetuation of gender expectations and the limitations imposed on women.
  8. Laird’s Conformity:
    • The transformation of Laird, the narrator’s younger brother, from a playful ally in subverting gender norms to a conforming embodiment of societal expectations is ironic. The shift in his behavior underlines the inevitability of succumbing to traditional roles, a fate that the narrator herself struggles against.

“Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro – Analysis

“Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro is a poignant coming-of-age short story that intricately explores the themes of gender roles, societal expectations, and the complexities of identity. Munro crafts a narrative set in rural Canada, where the narrator, a young girl on the cusp of adolescence, grapples with the rigid norms imposed by her community. The story unfolds against the backdrop of a fox farm, symbolizing the confinement and constraints associated with traditional gender roles. Through the narrator’s eyes, readers are taken on a journey of self-discovery, rebellion, and the inevitable confrontation with societal expectations.

The narrative begins with the young girl working alongside her father on the fox farm, participating in what she perceives as the more esteemed and important tasks reserved for boys. She embraces this role, finding a sense of identity and purpose in assisting her father. The farm becomes a microcosm of gendered expectations, with the father overseeing the foxes and the outdoors, while the mother manages the domestic realm. The stark division of labor foreshadows the challenges the narrator will face in reconciling her desires with societal norms.

As the story progresses, the narrator becomes increasingly aware of the limitations imposed by her gender. The title, “Boys and Girls,” immediately signals the strict categorization of individuals based on gender, setting the stage for the exploration of societal expectations. The narrator’s evolving consciousness becomes a central focal point, and Munro skillfully captures the internal conflicts arising from the collision between personal desires and societal norms.

The horse emerges as a powerful symbol of the narrator’s yearning for freedom and autonomy. The exhilarating experience of riding the horse provides a temporary escape from the constrictions of femininity. Munro masterfully depicts the sense of liberation and rebellion that accompanies these moments, as the narrator revels in the unbridled joy of riding. However, this freedom is short-lived, and the eventual realization that she cannot keep the horse foreshadows the challenges that lie ahead in navigating societal expectations.

The relationship between the narrator and her younger brother, Laird, undergoes a transformation as Laird begins to embrace the societal expectations associated with being a boy. Initially, the siblings share a camaraderie in challenging the conventions of gender, blurring the lines between traditional roles. However, as Laird conforms to the expected behaviors of a boy, the distance between them widens. This evolution highlights the impact of external pressures on familial relationships, serving as a microcosm of broader societal dynamics.

The foxes themselves become a metaphor for the entrapment of gender roles. The domesticated foxes on the farm, confined to their cages, symbolize the societal expectations placed upon individuals, particularly women. The contrast with the wild foxes glimpsed in the wilderness reinforces the narrator’s yearning for a life unrestrained by societal norms. The foxes’ escape serves as a poignant moment of rebellion, mirroring the narrator’s desire to break free from the constraints of femininity.

Munro intricately weaves the theme of loss throughout the narrative. The losses experienced by the narrator — the loss of the horse, the loss of her sense of freedom, and the loss of familial connections — underscore the sacrifices inherent in conforming to societal expectations. The poignant realization that she cannot keep the horse marks a turning point in the story, symbolizing the relinquishment of personal desires in the face of societal pressures.

The pelt-cutting scene emerges as a crucial episode, encapsulating the narrator’s confrontation with the consequences of resisting traditional gender roles. The father’s disappointment and disapproval signify the societal repercussions of challenging prescribed norms. The pelt-cutting becomes a visceral metaphor for the shedding of the narrator’s rebellious spirit, replaced by the acceptance of her predetermined role as a girl.

Winter, with its harshness and inevitability, serves as a metaphor for the unyielding societal expectations and the inescapable reality of conforming to gender norms. Munro skillfully uses the changing seasons to symbolize the progression of time and the maturation of the narrator’s understanding of her identity. Winter’s arrival signifies the culmination of internal conflicts and the onset of a more rigid adherence to societal expectations.

The mother, in her adherence to traditional female roles, becomes a symbol of the expected trajectory for the narrator. The mother’s duties, juxtaposed with the father’s outdoor responsibilities, contribute to the narrator’s growing awareness of the prescribed roles for men and women. The mother’s unspoken resignation to her role foreshadows the challenges the narrator will face in negotiating her own identity within the limitations imposed by gender norms.

The conclusion of “Boys and Girls” sees the narrator conforming to the expected role of a girl, participating in domestic tasks and abandoning her earlier desire for freedom. Munro paints a poignant picture of the societal pressure to conform, highlighting the universal struggle of individuals in negotiating their identities within a rigid framework. The acceptance of her assigned role comes at the cost of sacrificing individuality, desires, and the untamed spirit that once sought liberation.

In conclusion, “Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro is a rich exploration of the intricacies of identity, gender roles, and societal expectations. Munro’s storytelling prowess lies in her ability to navigate the internal landscapes of the narrator, capturing the nuances of self-discovery and the inevitable clash with societal norms. Through vivid imagery, powerful symbolism, and a nuanced portrayal of familial relationships, Munro creates a timeless narrative that resonates with readers, inviting contemplation on the enduring challenges of navigating identity in the face of societal expectations.

“Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro – Character Sketches

“Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro features several characters who contribute to the exploration of gender roles and societal expectations. Here are character sketches for some of the key figures in the story:

  1. The Narrator:
  • Description: The unnamed narrator is a young girl on the cusp of adolescence, navigating the challenges of growing up in a rural setting. She is spirited, curious, and initially embraces the physically demanding tasks traditionally associated with boys.
  • Character Development: As the story unfolds, the narrator undergoes significant development. Her initial enthusiasm for “boys’ work” gives way to a growing awareness of societal expectations and the limitations imposed by gender roles. The internal conflict she experiences becomes a central focus, highlighting the complexities of identity formation in the face of societal norms.
  1. The Father:
  • Description: The father is a traditional figure of authority on the fox farm. He oversees the outdoor tasks, particularly the handling of the foxes, embodying the stereotypical male role in the family and society.
  • Role in the Story: The father’s role is pivotal in reinforcing gender norms. His expectations for Laird, the narrator’s younger brother, to conform to traditional male roles mirror the societal pressures faced by the narrator. The father’s disappointment during the pelt-cutting scene marks a turning point in the story, symbolizing the clash between individual desires and societal expectations.
  1. Laird (Younger Brother):
  • Description: Laird is the younger brother of the narrator. Initially, he joins his sister in defying gender norms, engaging in imaginative play and subverting societal expectations.
  • Character Development: As the story progresses, Laird undergoes a transformation. He begins to embrace the expected behaviors of a boy, conforming to the traditional roles set by society. This shift highlights the inevitability of societal pressures and the impact of gender expectations on individual development.
  1. The Mother:
  • Description: The mother is portrayed as the traditional homemaker, managing domestic tasks within the household. She represents the expected female role in the family and, by extension, societal norms.
  • Role in the Story: While the mother’s character is not as explicitly developed as others, her adherence to traditional roles contributes to the narrator’s growing awareness of gender expectations. The mother’s unspoken acceptance of her role foreshadows the challenges the narrator will face in negotiating her own identity within the confines of societal norms.

Boys and Girls – Themes

“Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro explores several interconnected themes that revolve around gender roles, identity, societal expectations, and the challenges of coming of age. Here are the prominent themes in the story:

  1. Gender Roles and Expectations:
    • The story delves deeply into the rigid gender roles and expectations prevalent in the narrator’s society. The division of labor on the fox farm, with the father overseeing outdoor tasks and the mother managing domestic duties, sets the stage for the exploration of societal norms. The title itself, “Boys and Girls,” underscores the stark categorization of individuals based on gender and the expectations associated with these categories.
  2. Identity and Self-Discovery:
    • The narrator’s journey serves as a focal point for the theme of identity and self-discovery. Initially enthusiastic about participating in tasks traditionally associated with boys, the narrator finds a sense of identity and purpose. However, as the story progresses, the narrator grapples with the internal conflicts arising from societal expectations, leading to a nuanced exploration of the complexities involved in shaping one’s identity.
  3. Conformity and Rebellion:
    • A central theme in the story is the tension between conformity and rebellion. The narrator rebels against the prescribed roles for girls, embracing physically demanding tasks and resisting traditional femininity. However, the inevitability of societal pressures and expectations leads to a gradual conformity, highlighting the challenges of resisting established norms and the consequences of such resistance.
  4. Loss and Sacrifice:
    • The theme of loss permeates the narrative on multiple levels. The narrator experiences various losses, including the loss of personal freedom symbolized by the horse, the loss of her sense of identity, and the loss of familial connections as her brother, Laird, conforms to societal expectations. The story underscores the sacrifices inherent in conforming to societal norms and the emotional toll it takes on individual growth.
  5. Generational Perpetuation of Gender Norms:
    • The story touches upon the perpetuation of gender norms across generations. The narrator’s observations of her mother’s duties and the eventual conformity of her younger brother, Laird, highlight the cyclical nature of societal expectations. This theme emphasizes the challenges of breaking free from established norms and the impact of generational influence on individual choices.
  6. The Impact of Winter:
    • The changing seasons, particularly the arrival of winter, serve as a metaphor for the progression of time and the challenges faced by the narrator. Winter symbolizes the harshness and inevitability of societal expectations, underlining the difficulties of maintaining individuality in the face of rigid norms.

Boys and Girls – Worksheet PDF

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Boys and Girls by Alice Munro – Analysis – PDF

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