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Boys and Girls Summary, Analysis and Question Answers

“Boys and Girls" by Alice Munro were originally published in 1964 and subsequently in Munro's 1968 collection of short stories ‘Dance of the Happy Sha

About the Story Boys & Girls

Alice Munro's 'Boys and Girls' tells a coming-of-age story in which the narrator recounts her life as a child on a fox farm. She tells of her pride in doing work for her father. She tells us of the conflicts that arise as she is taught to be a 'girl. It was originally published in 1964 and subsequently in Munro's 1968 collection of short stories ‘Dance of the Happy Shade’ one of her short story collections. It is the story of a coming of age girl who slowly gets to know what the word ‘Girl’ means in the real world.

The Story Boys and Girls is in the first-person narration, narrated by an 11-year-old girl. However, the narrator of the store's name is not mentioned throughout the story. It’s through the 11-year-old innocent narrator that the readers see the big revelation of gender inequality in the storey Boys and Girls.

Main Summary of Boys and Girls

The 11-year-old girl (narrator) lives with her father, mother, and younger brother on a farm. Her father is a fox farmer. He raises silver fox and when their fur is at prime he kills them and sells the skin to a company. It is revealed that killing, skinning, feeding, watering are an everyday part of the narrator’s life.

During the summer holidays, the narrator always liked to help and preferred helping her father on the farm outside the house rather than helping her mother in the kitchen. While working with her father she always had thousands of questions but she hesitated to ask him anything since he didn’t talk much. But while working with her mother she never hesitated to ask questions. 

Once, while working on the farm her father introduced her to the salesman referring to her as the ‘new hired hand’ and it made her very happy and proud since she always looked forward to her father’s praises. The narrator then goes on to describe her mother. She always works inside the house cooking, cleaning so she never bothers to take care of her physical appearance, never combs her hair except for tying it in a bun. She observes though her mother and father works equally inside and outside the house throughout the day only her father’s work is given more importance and even she thinks it to be the truth.

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The narrator clearly stated that she never enjoyed the household work that her mother does, who is confined inside the kitchen most of the time. But her mother wants her to learn the household chores and often calls her for help.  She would often get offended when her mother told her younger brother would take over the farm once he is old enough and she could use her inside the kitchen. This is where the author subtly describes the theme of the story. And how the main protagonist has started to understand the difference between a girl and a boy.

As the story progresses we are introduced to two horses, Mack and Flora. Mack is an old black workhorse, Flora a young mare. During that winter the narrator learns the undercurrent of the word ‘Girl’ she says. “The word girl had formerly seemed to be 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 is further revealed to her when her grandmother visits her and starts restricting her to do certain things. Like she should not talk loudly, sit properly, etc. And how she would rebel against it and do exactly the opposite. 

And then it was time to kill Mack the old horse and the narrator was curious to see the whole act which was restricted to her by her father. Finally, with her younger brother Laird, she watches the whole episode of the horse being shot by her father but she was strong enough to digest the whole act, but she was scared that her brother would tell this to her father so she bribed him by taking him to the town. Meanwhile, she also reveals a secret- when Laird was small she made him climb the attic and complained to her parents and in return, she was the one who got all the scolding for not taking care of her little brother. This incident showed how it was always her responsibility to take care of her brother even though she was young too.

Then it was to kill the young mare Flora but the narrator was no longer interested in watching the whole scene again. During the shooting when Flora slips out of her father’s grip, the mare starts running crazily to escape the shooting and her father seeing her near the gate tells the narrator to close the gate so that the mare shouldn’t escape but though she knew she had to listen to her father yet she let the house escape from the farm. She knew it was of no use no matter what she does she could never save Flora the only thing she did by letting the horse out is she made it hard for her father to catch it. Maybe she did it because she found Flora unlike Mack was a young mare and had all the right to live. 

Later at the dinner table, Laird complained about this incident to his parent and when her father asked her for the reason, she had none. Though she didn’t answer but tear brimmed her eyes at that moment her father said “She’s only a girl” and she after all the fighting finally thought maybe she is just a girl after all who could or can do nothing to change her life. 

Characters Of The Story Boys & Girls

Narrator (girl):- The main protagonist who narrates the whole story from her point of view. Through the story, we see the character development of this girl who gets to know the difference between girls and boys.

Larid:- Narrator’s younger brother apple of everyone's eye. At first, we see him as a little boy who obeyed his sister all the time but by the end things were different.

Father:- The narrator’s father is a very hard working man when it comes to working. Thinks primitively when it comes to his children otherwise a good father.

Mother:- The narrator’s mother is also a very hardworking woman who takes care of her family really well by cooking and cleaning. Never bothers to take care of herself and like her husband she too thinks primitively when it comes to her daughter and son.   

Henry Bailey:- Henry Bailey is a farmhand. He is like a part of the narrator’s family, sharing meals and his life with them. Also friendly towards the children. 

Plots of the Story

Main Plot- The narrator and her family. The main plot mostly revolves around the narrator family their everyday life. 

Subplot - Mack, and Flora

The subplot revolves around the two horses. Here we need to take note on how Mack and FLora bear the same consequence even though Mack was an old Horse and Flora was just a young mare. The author cleverly interweaves both Flora and the girl's fate and future.

Main Theme Of the Story

Gender Identity 

There are a few instances through which the narrator the meaning of the word ‘Girl’.

Firstly when her mother tells her that once her younger brother is old enough he will be helping his father

Secondly, when her grandmother pesters her to behave in a certain way because she is a girl.

Lastly, when her father says in the end that after all, she is just a girl so, of course, she will cry.

Gender Inequality 

Same with this theme, her mother differentiates between the narrator and her brother 

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