The View of Gender through Setting and Language In Boys and Girls by Alice Munro

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Howard Wang

Mr. O Hagen

IB English 20

May 28th, 2010

The View of Gender through Setting and Language

In “Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro

        In the short story “Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro the view of gender is very important. Even the Title “Boys and Girls” greatly suggests that the story has something to do with gender. In the story “Boys and Girls” Munro uses the setting and figurative language to make the unnamed narrator appear to be a boy in the beginning. The different views on gender in the story are also achieved through contrasting diction and figurative language. Eventually this leads to the shocking climax when the unnamed narrator is revealed to be a girl. And in the narrator’s progression from the role of a male into the role of a female and by the different views of gender by the characters Munro displays the unfairness of gender stereotypes.

        In “Boys and Girls” the story begins with a description of the setting. The narrator tells how her father was a fox farmer, killed foxes and skinned them to sell to the Hudson’s Bay Company. It is through the detailed descriptions of the setting through the narrator’s perspective that leads to the early assumption that she is a boy. In the first paragraph the narrator says “These companies supplied us with heroic calendars to hang, against a background of cold blue sky and black pine forests and treacherous northern rivers, plumed adventurers planted the flags of England or of France; magnificent savages bent their backs to the portage”(97). This opening description immediately portrays a tough, dangerous and masculine world not fit for a woman. Another example of the Setting is when the narrator describes the night-time. “We were afraid at night in the winter. We were not afraid of outside though this was the time of year when snowdrifts curled around our house like sleeping whales and the wind harasses us all night, coming up from the buried fields, the frozen swamp, with is old bugbear chorus of threats and misery”(98). Again the description of the setting makes the world which the narrator lives in appear to be a harsh and unforgiving place not fit for a girl. The assumption that the narrator is a boy is further suggested when the narrator is about to go to sleep and talks about her stories which are essentially day-dreams and fantasies of herself when she grows up. She says “These stories were about myself, when I had grown a little older; they took place in a world that was recognizably mine, yet one that presented opportunities for courage, boldness and self sacrifice as mine never did. I rescued people from a bombed building (it discouraged me that the real war had gone on so far away from jubilee). I shot two rabid wolves who were menacing the schoolyard (the teachers cowered terrified at my back). 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” (99). Almost all the stories of heroes in stories which are abundant with courage, boldness and self sacrifice are male and with the narrator saying that her stories took place in a world which was recognizably hers it enhances the illusion to the reader that the narrator is a boy.

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        Munro also uses careful and deliberate words which because of the previous assumptions that the narrator is a boy further dispels the idea that the narrator is a girl from the readers mind. When the narrator sings songs at night with her younger brother she chooses to sing “Danny Boy” which references the male gender. Another reference to the male gender is when the narrator is describing the fox pens and says “Each of them had a real door that a man could go through”. Also when the narrator is helping her father and a salesman comes the salesman says ...

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