Summary: Symbolism Throughout the 'Boys and Girls' Story

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In the short story ‘Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro, the unidentified, female narrator reminisces upon her childhood in a rural Canadian town post World War II in which males outrank females. The young girl lives on a fox farm and strives to one day replicate her father’s work as a fox trapper; however, girls were expected to work inside the home through cooking and cleaning. Throughout the story, the narrator competes against her brother, Laird, to gain her parent’s approval and work alongside their father on the farm completing chores. In order to feed the foxes on the farm, the family kills wild horses. At the end of the short story, the girl decides to allow a horse to run away freely instead of being killed and the father dismisses the girl’s action and states “she is just a girl” . Through symbolism and first-hand narration, the narrator of “Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro struggles internally due to the realization of society’s preconceived gender roles.

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Even though some may argue that the central theme in “Boys and Girls” deals with the harsh realities of growing up, Alice Munro adds another element to the story by showcasing the unfair treatment women receive compared to men in society by using symbolism. The protagonist, an unidentified young girl, aspires to become something “courageous, bold, and worthy of self-sacrifice” however, the girl is forced to believe her role in the world belongs in the household with her mother. Alice Munro showcases female suppression through comparing the treatment of women to caged animals. To begin, the father instructs the narrator to kill a vivacious horse in order to feed the foxes on the farm. Right before killing the horse, the narrator decides to allow the horse to roam away freely. The narrator’s father admonishes the narrator’s actions and blames her mistake on her gender by stating, “she’s only a girl”. The father retrieves the horse and ultimately kills it. The horse represents the narrators strong desire to escape the predetermined gender roles in society. The young girl feels trapped with no freedom to choose her own course of action throughout her life. After the father kills the horse, the narrator comes to terms with the fact that society’s gender standards will never change, and females must submit to males without question.

Through the use of first-person narration, readers understand the innermost thoughts of the narrator and witness the first-hand challenges of growing up in a society with limits based on gender. The young narrator expresses her desires to work in a job field similar to her father by stating, “work in the house was dreary, and depressing but work done outdoors was ritualistically important” Reading the narrator’s true thoughts allows readers to build connections to the narrator and feel emotionally drawn into the plot.

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