Review: “Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro

Dance of the Happy ShadesAlice Munro’s short story, “Boys and Girls,” features a narrator that is in the midst of growing from a girl into a woman. The girl remains nameless in the story, perhaps to show how she is becoming less important in some ways because she is “just a girl.” In the beginning, we learn about the girl’s father and his farm of foxes. The girl is perfectly happy to help her father with the foxes, working outside in the heat and dirt, though her mother would prefer to have her working inside. However, it seems that the days of helping her father water the foxes and cut the grass are coming to an end.

This short story is discussed in full detail below, so you may want to read it here before continuing.

The mother mentions that the girl will soon be able to help her in the house because the younger brother, Laird, will soon be big enough to help with the animals outside and that will be a “real” help. When a salesman comes to the farm, he insults the girl saying that he did not realize she was a hired hand because he thought, “it was only a girl.” The man does not even refer to the girl as she, but as a genderless “it.” At this point in the story, she could be considered to be between genders, at least in her heart. She still prefers working outdoors with the boys, but when she is inside, her hormones are slowly taking over as she does things like decorate her room with lace curtains to make it more “fancy.”

In a pinnacle moment, the girl watches a loose horse run around the farm. She has the chance to shut the gate and keep the horse in, but she instead opens the gate wider without even thinking, to set it free. Though the horse would be caught later and she knew this, she says, “that was the only thing I could do.” The girl is fearful of losing her father’s trust and being sent from the dinner table, but when her father finds out the truth, his reaction shows that he has been waiting for a moment like this to occur. He brushes off the girl’s offense with, “She’s only a girl.” The girl, realizing this is true and that she has been changing, agrees for the first time and falls into acceptance of her gender role.


My rating: 4 out of 5 = really liked it


“Boys and Girls” is available in this collection of short stories.

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