Short Story #256: Boys and Girls by Alice Munro

Title:  Boys and Girls

Author:  Alice Munro


Sketch of Alice Munro. Source:
The narrator, a young girl introduces her father, a fox farmer.  She talks about all the types of foxes and work that he does and even she does with caring for the foxes.  At times, the father employs a man named Henry Bailey who has a harsh cough and can be strange at times.  She explains the working of the farm and then discusses her and her brother, Laird's room  in the house.  In winter, they were often afraid in their room because it was often cold, dark, and unfinished.  However, brother and sister still had many sweet memories in their room growing up.  She would sing  and he would fall asleep peacefully.  After he fell asleep, she would tell herself all sorts of adventure stories where she is the hero.  She returns to discussing the intimate details of the fox farm, illustrating how much she knows about the whole business.  She regularly helps with a variety of tasks around the farm.  She does so much work that one day when a salesman is present, her father introduces her as his new hired hand.  Though she is proud of this, the salesman responds with a quip that "it was only a girl."  It's here that the narrator begins to notice things going one with her mother who generally wants nothing to do with the fox farming and sticks to doing things in the house.  The mother increasingly requires work of her but she finds her mother's work boring.  It's clear the mother wants her to do less work on the farm and learn more about the kitchen and that she wants to father to agree.  The narrator explains that she knows her mother loves her but that she was not to be trusted because she was always plotting.  It becomes clear that her parents had plans for her that were against her wishes. She also realizes that Laird is growing up and isn't as easier to boss around. When the grandmother comes to visit, she increasingly hears instructions about how girls are supposed to ask and being redirected if what she asks or does is not proper for girls.  As spring comes along, she discovers that they will need to kill one of the horses that they had been holding onto (for fox meat).  Her father and Henry don't really answer her but she grabs Laird and they sneak around to another part of the barn to watch it happen.  They watch the shooting.  Neither are particularly phased by the event.  Laird promises not to tell but just as a precaution to nightmares, she takes him to the movies that night.  A few weeks later, she discovers they are going to kill another horse.  She doesn't have any interest in seeing it again.  However, the horse escapes being killed and is running about in the field.  The girl is directed to cut through an area to shut the gate.  She runs as fast as she can to get to the gate but decides not to close it and the horse escapes.  The father and Henry run by trying to get it, but Laird had witnessed her leaving the gate open.  She ponders her decision and thinks about why she was suddenly siding with the female horse over her father.  She returns to her bedroom that she shares with Laird and talks about the changes she has been making to make it more fancy.  The father and Henry return with the horse, shot and chopped up.  At dinner, Laird rats out his sister for letting the horse run away.  When asked why she did it, she provides no answer but starts to cry.  Her father remarks that it doesn't matter because "She's only a girl."  The narrator admits that she didn't protest this and that it was was possibly true.


I like how Munro teases out the narrator's experience from wanting to be an adventurer to wanting to make her room fancy and the myriad little ways that direct her down this path.  It's an interesting look at institutional engendering in that the narrator is perfectly capable at the farm but is increasingly pushed to do work and be like the mother and it's because of this, that she most relates to the female horse who is trying to escape and be free.  And yet, this act of defiance is only understood as being something derogatory--"a girl."  

Short Story #256 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/23/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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