Boys and Girls by Alice Munro: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Summary of ~'Boys and Girls~'
  • 3:10 Analysis
  • 4:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Damon Barta

Damon has taught college English and has an MA in literature.

This lesson will provide a summary of the short story 'Boys and Girls' (1968) by the Nobel Prize winning author Alice Munro and analyze some of the story's central ideas.

Summary of 'Boys and Girls'

The narrator of 'Boys and Girls,' a coming of age story, tells us about her life as a child on a fox farm and how she discovered that her role in this place changes once she learns to become a 'girl.'

She begins the story by announcing that her father was a fox farmer. She describes the gruesome work of skinning the foxes for pelts and notes that it disgusted her mother. The narrator, however, found the smell of blood and flesh reassuring. She and her brother, Laird, are both close to the work that her father and his hired man Henry Bailey do.

Bedtime Stories and Early Ties

While the children enjoy the outdoors, they're uneasy in their upstairs room at night, where Laird sings himself to sleep and the narrator tells herself stories. These stories combine the world that the narrator lives in with fantasies about opportunities not available in that world. For example, she saves people from a building, shoots rabid wolves, and rides into town heroically on horseback.

Both the narrator and Laird assist their father with his duties. The narrator is proud to be part of her father's world, and she prefers his reserved manner and his focus on work to her mother's ramblings about boys she used to date and dresses she used to wear.

The narrator's mother tries to find things for her to do in the house, but she finds the kitchen depressing and rushes out as soon as she can to do her father's work, which she considers more important. Her mother complains that it's like not having a girl at all, and that once Laird gets older her father will have 'real' help and she can retain her daughter in the kitchen.

Bloody Deeds

The narrator tells us that the foxes eat horse meat and that the family sometimes kept horses in the stables to be butchered. She tells of two such horses, Mack and Flora, that the family has when she is eleven years old. She has also become conscious of the fact that she is expected to become a 'girl' and that this is an identity that implies inferiority.

The narrator and Laird hide to watch their father and Henry shoot Mack. This seems to disturb Laird, so the narrator takes him into town to see a show. When it comes time to shoot Flora two weeks later, she realizes that she is now ashamed of her father's work and has started paying more attention to how she looks and whether or not she will be pretty.

Flora breaks away from the narrator's father as he leads her out of the stable to be killed. Flora heads for the gate on the other side of the stable, which has been left open. The men yell for her to shut it, but she opens it wider instead. Henry and her father don't see her do it, but Laird does. The men take Laird with them to chase down Flora.

Becoming Girls and Boys

Meanwhile, the narrator tells us that she has sectioned off the room she shares with Laird, and the stories she tells herself at night have changed. Now she's more concerned about what she looks like and instead of rescuing others, she's being rescued.

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