Critical Approaches Of Boys And Girls English Literature Essay

Gilbert Melendez



Professor Remington

April 14, 2013

Critical Approaches of “Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro

In the short story “Boys and Girls” written by Alice Munro, the main character of the story is a girl named Margaret who is also the narrator. Munro clearly shows an enormous growing period into a woman for this young girl who lives on a farm up in Canada that raises foxes. The main idea of the story can be better understood in more than one way by using psychological, feminist, and existential approaches.

From a psychological standpoint, you have a coming of age tale. In the story, Margaret comes of age seamlessly. She is depicted as a tomboy who loves to help her father by helping him work around the fox farm. She is proud to work with him and feels privileged in doing so. One thing that gets in her way, and bothers her constantly is her brother Laird. This is typical sibling rivalry with both trying to show how important they are to their father to gain his respect and recognition. Margaret does not want Laird to take over her place in her father’s eyes so she belittles him when he tries to help. “Laird came too, with his little cream and green gardening can, too full and knocking against his leg and slopping water on his canvas shoes. I had the real watering can my father’s, though I could only carry it three-quarters full” (p. 112). Margaret also was always able to get Laird to do things that she asked of him. She once asked him to climb a ladder in the barn to the top beam, only to have him get in trouble by their parents. Another time Margaret had force Laird to watch their dad with Henry Bailey shoot “Mack” one of their horses they had. In the beginning of the story Margaret can relate better with the males, she also has dreams that you would relate to a typical boy having. She describes a particular dream where she is a hero. “I rescued people from a bombed building. I shot two rabid wolves who were menacing the schoolyard. I rode a fine horse spiritedly down the main street of Jubilee. Acknowledging the townspeople’s gratitude for some yet-to-be-worked-out piece of heroism” (p. 111-112). However, towards the end of the story Margaret’s mind changes. She starts to accept more womanly things explaining that “Lately I had been trying to make my part of the room more fancy, spreading the bed with old lace curtains and fixing myself a dressing table with some leftovers of cretonne for a skirt”(p. 120). Even her dreams were changing. They would start off the same but would have more things that a typical girl my dream of. It is these examples that show Margaret growing from a tomboy to a more familiar image of a woman.

From a feminist standpoint, Margaret is a tomboy being forced to become a proper woman. Throughout the story Margaret is always trying to refuse her role and duties of a woman. Women’s work at home is considered not as important when compared to men’s work. Men’s work is typically outside of the home and is respected more in the society since their work is compensated or considered the breadwinners of the family. Even though a woman is working as hard as a man it is considered degrading work and less important. When Margaret is given jobs to do by her mother she would try to finish them and leave quickly out of the house. Margaret “hated the hot dark kitchen in the summer, the green blinds and the flypapers, the same old oilcloth table and wavy mirror and bumpy linoleum” (p. 114). Margaret describes her mother with not as much high regard as she does with her father’s duties. “It seemed to me that work in the house was endless, dreary and peculiarly depressing; work done out of doors and in my father’s service, was ritualistically important”(p. 114). Her excitement to work with her father shows she does not want to lead a dull life like her mother and wants more admiration like her father. Margaret hears her mother talking to her father about when her brother is bigger he will have “real help” so that her mother will have more help in the house. The day that changed Margaret was the day she had let Flora escape instead of helping to catch her. “Instead of shutting the gate, I opened it as wide as I could. I did not make any decision to do this, it was just what I did” (p. 119). Her decision to do so cause her to realize what she has done is just prolonging the inevitable. Margaret’s father will find out and she will not be trusted. Once her brother tells her father about letting the horse out, it is what her father says that Margaret finally begins to start accepting her gender role. “He spoke with resignation, even good humor, the words which absolved and dismissed me for good. “She’s only a girl,” He said. I didn’t protest that, even in my heart. Maybe it was true.” (p. 121).

From an existential standpoint, Margaret is becoming more fully human. Margaret is an individual that lives in a man’s world. The world is hostile and indifferent to how she wants to be. Margaret would love to be her father’s help on the fox farm permanently, not just a temporary fix until Laird is old enough to be actually able to help. Margaret wants the importance and recognition that a man has in this world not just to be a woman that cooks and cleans like her mother. To Margaret her place in this world is outside on the farm being able to freely do what she wants. Her action of opening the gate wider to let their family horse Flora escape causes her to think more critically of her actions and as to why she did it. This mistake clarifies in her mind that her position in this world just might be only that of a woman.

In conclusion, Boys and Girls by Alice Munro clearly displays that the main idea of this story can be understood in more than one way. On the surface, one might see only one view. With a critical approach readers will be able to pick up on cues that the narrator shows, and use them to form a psychological, feminist, and existential approach to suggest her meaning to the story of a girl’s journey into womanhood.

[Word Count 1115]