Boys And Girls Summary

Alice Munro

Boys And Girls

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Boys And Girls Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Boys And Girls by Alice Munro.

Pioneering Canadian novelist Alice Munro published the short story “Boys and Girls” in 1964. Voiced by an 11-year-old girl, the story considers how gender roles are constructed. “Boys and Girls” was later included in Munro’s short story collection, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968). The story was adapted for TV in 1983, with the adaptation winning an Oscar. Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013, and is considered to be one of the greatest Canadian writers of all time. The themes of “Boys and Girls” include subtle resistance to socialization, the development of a feminine consciousness, and the malleability of gender.

The story opens as the narrator discusses her father’s fox-hunting habits. He sells foxes to local businesses, and her house is dotted with “heroic calendars” from company’s like Montreal Fur Traders and Hudson’s Bay. The smell of a dead fox was a source of comfort while she is growing up; not only did it represent how the family made a living, but it also meant that food was on its way. The narrator discusses Henry Bailey, a farmhand with respiratory issues, who is a jolly man none the less. Growing up, their house frequently rang with his laughter. She talks about sleeping in the dark with her brother, Laird, and how they shared songs like “Danny Boy” and “Jingle Bells” to comfort themselves in the dark. When her brother goes to sleep, the narrator thinks about the type of person she will be in a few years when she is a young woman. She wants a life marked by “courage, boldness, and self-sacrifice,” where she can shoot menacing wolves and ride horses around town.

She describes how her father farms foxes. The foxes are all born and raised in captivity. Her father keeps them surrounded with a tall fence that he locks every night. The narrator is responsible for giving the foxes water twice a day. After a fox has survived for one year, it is given a name. The foxes aren’t kept as pets and the narrator doesn’t grow overly attached to any of them. Only her father touches the animals, and he has contracted a blood diseases several times after a bad bite.

She describes her mother’s housework. She resents her mother for demarcating between female and male work. Her mother comments to her father that it’s like they don’t even have a girl at home. She knows her mother wants to tame her, and she hates the restrictions she tries to impose. For some time, the girl believes that her father is taking her side: her little brother, Laird, really is too young to help; she is stronger and more useful; and there’s nothing wrong with her wanting to help with the grittier work of fox farming, which includes feeding the foxes horse meat. The father, like the mother, is hardworking and amiable. And also like his wife, the father knows there will be a time when the young girl will become a young lady, at which point it will only be suitable for her to help her mother; there is an inevitable distance that will grow between them.

As the year comes to an end, the narrator increasingly resents the connotations of the word “girl”. She feels that it is said with immediate “reproach and disappointment.” It is less of a description of who she is than a prescription of what she is expected to become. The identity it represents is incredibly limiting, and seems to preclude her early fantasies of a life of courage and independence. When her grandmother comes to visit, she tells her what girls do and don’t do; girls aren’t supposed to slam doors and when they sit down they’re expected to keep their knees together.

One day, Mack, a horse that the narrator has bonded with, is to be shot. She has never seen a horse shot before and is determined to watch. Her father tells her to leave, and she appears to do so. But, along with her brother, she secretly hides and watches the horse be shot. It takes a while for Mack to die. Henry issues a nervous laugh at the sight of the dying animal. Henry’s nervous reaction has haunted the narrator for weeks. When Flora, Mack’s companion, is to be shot later, the narrator chooses not to witness it. But unexpectedly, Flora breaks out of the barn. The narrator watches her and compares her to a stubborn horse in a Western movie. Her father shouts at the narrator to shut the gate on the opposite side of the field so the horse doesn’t escape. In a split-second decision, the narrator chooses not to shut the gate. Her younger brother, Laird, sees her do this. Flora escapes.

Her decision permanently separates the narrator from the world of men. Her father, Laird, and Henry, all pile into a truck to capture the horse. The narrator heads back to the house to visit with her mother. She does not, however, confess what she has done. The men eventually return with Flora dead in the back of their truck; they have cut her into 50 pieces. During dinner that night, Laird says that the narrator purposefully left the gate open. Her father asks if this is true and the narrator, tearing up, admits it is. The father, in a disgusted tone, asks her why she did it. The narrator starts crying in earnest; she is unable to explain herself. The father then says, “Never mind…. She’s only a girl.” The phrase forgives her, but also dismisses her. The story concludes with the narrator accepting that she is a girl, and beholden to certain social norms that were established long before she could have a say in their formation.