In way the narrator describes the foxes

In the story “Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro, the characters are influenced by gender stereotypes. Munro tells a story about a young girl’s life and resistance to womanhood in a society filled with traditional gender roles. As a young girl, she is not fully aware of the restrictions her gender has on her. The story is told through the point of view of the narrator. Although she is the main character, she is not given a name. This shows how she has a lack of purpose in society. She is a young girl trying to explore the world. She sometimes acts like a tomboy, and her mother is offended by that. Throughout the story, the narrator accepts the fact that she is a girl and there is nothing she can do to change the society’s mentality on gender roles. There is symbolism presented that affects how the narrator is trying to find herself within the gender roles that society has forced upon her. The story takes place on a family fox farm in the late 1900s. The setting of the farmland influenced the characters, most importantly the narrator. Her father would kill foxes every year during the winter time and skin them for their fur. The narrator looked forward to this season every year. The presence of the foxes play a major role in the story, as they symbolize the conflict between conformity and self identity. The symbol of the fox in the story is critical. The way the narrator describes the foxes symbolizes her struggle with identity. The narrator states “Alive, the foxes inhabited a world my father made for them.” She explains how they “prowl up and down” inside “sturdy pens ” that are “surrounded by a high guard fence” that is “padlocked at night” (Munro 402). The fox pens symbolize how she is trapped and cannot escape from gender differences and role expectations. The foxes are trapped in the pens, isolated and enclosed, which is how the narrator feels while dealing with her gender. The foxes in this situation show how she is living in a world with people always telling her what to do with the use of strict sets of rules. Her parents expectations and standards are enclosing her and she is being trapped within the demands. This represents enclosure and containment to the life she wants to live. Both the foxes and the narrator are controlled by others, live in a routine lifestyle and metaphorically are locked in cages. Another strong point of symbolism shown was with the horse, Flora. Flora the horse represents freedom in the way that she tries to escape. Flora is a female, bright, loving horse but is soon to be slaughtered. Moments before the father was going to kill Flora, the narrator opens the gate and lets Flora run free. She says, ” I did not regret it; when she came running at me and I held the gate open, that was the only thing I could do” (Munro 411). Her feelings were let out and she did not even worry about the consequence she may have faced. In reality, the narrator wanted to be free and independent herself. Just like how Flora was freed, the narrator wants to be liberated and break away from the current life she is living. The choice she made to let Flora be free shows how she had nothing left in her to deal with societal gender roles, so she chose to rebel. The use of symbolism for Flora ties into how the narrator and Flora are much alike. The narrator tries to break free by becoming more equal. They are both wild and non-obedient. She ultimately wants to be free and escape the struggle with gender identity. When it comes down to it, there is no escaping society’s norms and the narrator must learn how to deal with the gender roles.A specific part of the story that was prominent with dominance of the sexes is when the narrator talks about the time when her and her brother, Laird, were up in the barn when they were little. The narrator wanted Laird to go to the barn to see if any of the barn cats had kittens. She told him to climb the ladder and to stay on the top beam. The reason for going up to the barn was so she could get her brother in trouble. Ultimately, all the blame was put on her. When the parents came and helped Laird they were upset that she did not keep an eye on him. This shows how the parents were more concerned about Laird than they were about her. Laird is allowed to do what he wants. He is superior because of his gender, so he is considered to be more important of the two. While the narrator takes on the woman role, she becomes less important than her brother. According to Joyce J. Endendijk, ” the association between child gender, parenting, and child behavior is likely to be in?uenced by parents’ gender-role stereotypes. When parents have traditional attitudes about gender roles, they are more likely to show gender-differentiated parenting that reinforces gender-role consistent behavior” (300). In perspective, this part in the story is symbolic of how society saw men superior to the women. She begins to realize she has to accept it and no longer fight the stereotypes. Near the end of the story, the narrator begins to cry because she realizes how she has to accept these stereotypes. The young girl in the story is struggling with finding her own gender identity. She is expected to be devoted to her domestic roles like her mother. The actions that she takes are against the stereotypes of men and women of the time. During this time period, men and women in society were not treated equally. Women were viewed as second class citizens and men were superior to women. The role of women in society shows how they were discriminated and mistreated during this era. The narrator is having a tough time dealing with the role in life society wanted her to live. People cannot escape from society’s rules so in order to grow up and be accepted, people must live up to the standards of the society’s rules. The narrator was not going to accept this without a fight. The majority of time it was the woman’s responsibility to take care of the house. This includes cleaning, cooking, raising and taking care of the children and making their husband happy. It was their responsibility to stay in the house while the man would go out and look for work to provide money for his family. Men’s responsibility was to take care of the yard work. However, the lead character did not like this idea at all. The narrator would much rather work alongside her father. She enjoys working with her father out on the farm, and does not want to be a girl. The narrator enjoyed working outside with her father, but her mother was disappointed in the fact that she liked doing those chores. She sees her father’s work as more important and worthwhile, while she sees her mother’s work as tedious and not meaningful. The narrator did not like doing women’s work, she hated it even more when it was demanded by her mother. She did not understand why she was forced to do that type of work. Marlene Goldman describes the housework as, “The dark, hot, stifling kitchen imprisons the narrator’s mother and threatens to imprison the narrator” and work performed indoors is “endless, dreary and peculiarly depressing” (1). As Goldman writes, there is a problematic relationship between the mother and daughter. The mother wants control of her daughter and ultimately ‘imprison’ her. She would do a chore for her mother and try to get away so her mother could not tell her anything else to do. The girl wanted more to life other than cleaning inside for her mother. She had a desire to be more than ‘just a girl’. It saddened the narrator that her mother would not let her do the chores she actually found interest in doing. She even started laying in bed at night making up scenarios in her head of how she imagined her life to be. She pictured herself as a bold, strong hero. This symbolizes how deep inside she knows she is being confined by society’s rules and the role she has to play. The narrator continues to feel the pressure to change when overhearing her mother speak to her father, and she realizes that “a girl was not, as she had supposed, simply what she was, it was what she had to become” (Munro 406). Finally, the narrator gives way of the pressure that is put on her.  As we can see, this short story explores the different gender roles in society and shows individuals what is acceptable and what is not in the world the narrator lives in. There have always been gender roles in society. It played a major role in households during the 1960s. In the 1960s it was the start of the Women’s Liberation Movement. As stated in “Women’s  Liberation and the Family,” Sylvia Clavan talks about how “Most often the role conflict is depicted as the outcome of antagonism between female needs and desires and the behavior expected of her” (318). She is feeling captured by tasks expected to be committed and inherited by females, but this conflicts with the freedom she feels when she is out doing labor around the yard with her father, what most would consider as man work. The girl is showing resistance to her gender role she was assigned. According to Miriam Papanek, “normally the child uses the parent of the same sex as a sex role model, and also that, wittingly or unwittingly, the parents’ concepts of masculinity and femininity will be reflected in their standards for their children as well” (88). Although she knows her duties as a woman and what her mother expects of her, she needs to become more accepting of them.  In conclusion, Alice Munro presents issues in this short story of the importance of the gender in boys and girls by showing symbolism of being trapped inside stereotypes, self identity and self discovery. This story is filled with symbolic figures of how the narrator is coping with the issues of gender in her world. The narrator had been forced into this identity role. Her desire for freedom is clear as she expresses her resistance to conform to society’s rules. The narrator truly struggled with unfairness of sex-role stereotyping and experienced negative consequences that affected her while growing into adulthood. As she grew up, she began to find out what it means to be a girl. It shows the ways in which gender identity can affect oneself and family relationships. She learned to change and come to accept her role as a girl.


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