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Boys and Girls Character Analysis: An Initiation Story

An initiation story is one which a character is initiated into the world by learning a truth
about people, the world, or himself/herself. In Boys and Girls, the narrator is initiated into her
gender role throughout the story. In stark contrast to the character at the beginning of the story
an innocent girl working for her for fatherthe narrator develops an understanding of what it
means for her to be a female within her world. The narrator is initiated into her gender role by
her family a new-gained understanding that being a female means entrapment and a less-than
version of a man.
The narrators family in Boys and Girls caused her to be initiated by propagating gender
roles. At the beginning of the story, the narrator doesn't yet have a understanding of what her
being a female means. She knows that she prefers to work outside with her father, but beyond
that she is simply a human just as her brother is. The first instance of gender roles being
presented to the narrator was when her father introduced her to a coworker as his new hired
man. (Munro 424) This may seem like an innocent statement, but to the narrator it was
extremely significantso significant that she in fact got red in the face with pleasure. (Munro
425) The problem with her fathers statement was that she actually isnt a man. the subtext
within her fathers statement was essentially saying that her work was equal to a mans, thus
implying that a females work is generally less than a mans work. This statement caused the
narrator to start to identify with the male gender role. She was no longer simply a child, now she
was a man (which, biologically, was false). As she grows, she begins to understand the gender

roles more clearly, and chooses to stay on the male side, despising housework and her mother.
This would have been fine if her familybe it her mother by foreshadowing the narrators
destiny to help her with housework, her brother by getting to ride with the men to go retrieve a
missing horse, or her father by equating her to a malewouldnt have kept trying to initiate her
into a stereotypical female gender role. Her family never treats her as a man because, to them,
she is and always will be just a girl.
The narrator in Boys and Girls is constantly surrounded by entrapment. As she puts it,
the foxes live in a world my father has made for them. (Munro 424). To compare this
entrapment to gender roles, the narrators father would be the male, who owns the land and is the
leader, while the foxes, confined in the pin, are the females. To the narrator, femininity is
entrapment. This is also extended to the narrators mother, who she feels is confined to doing
only housework. As the narrator grows, she begins to realize that she too is trapped within her
room just as the foxes are within their pin and her mother is within the house. She seems to want
to be free, just as her father is, to do whatever she wants. It is from this desire to not be
contained by men, represented by her father, that influences the narrators choice when told to
close the gate by her father in order to contain the escaped mare. The narrator identifies with the
mare, who has also been pinned up and is about to be killed, and decides to let the bounds of
confinement be set free by opening the gate. It is this choice by the narrator, even though she
states that it was just what [she] did (Munro 430) ,that shows her understanding of the
entrapment and the inequality that being a female forces upon her. She saw it and she decided
that she would disobey her father in order to change it. As Rena Korb puts it, the horse brings to

life the narrator's fantasies, though now generally rejected, of the female striking against imposed
societal expectations and becoming a creature strong in its own right. To add to this, in the end
her choice to open the gate did not matterthe horse still got killed and she was still a girl.
Before the narrator in Boys and Girls opened the gate to allow the mare to escape, her
view of her own future had already changed. At the beginning of the story, the narrator tells
stories in which she plays the hero riding into town and getting endless gratitude. Then she starts
to gain the understanding of what being a girl means in her world from her grandmotherbeing
a polite, lady-like, houseworkerand starts to tell stories of a male hero in her stories. She also
starts to wonder about her future, being terrified of working inside the house like her mother and
wondering if [she] would be pretty when [she] grew up. (Munro 430) She has been initiated, if
just by her view of herself, into worrying about what women worry about, telling stories that
women tell, and wondering what women wonder. As Rena Korb states, the narrators
understanding and distaste for what a woman is within her world has been building up before
her fateful encounter with Flora.
The narrator in Boys and Girls is never able to escape her gender. Boys and Girls is
not the typical heros journey that one might read in a comic book. Boys and Girls is not the
story of a girl overcoming inequality, and thus changing the world forever. No, Boys and Girls
is the story of a girl coming to recognize and accept the womanhood that is her future. (Korb)

Work Cited
Korb, Rena. "Boys and Girls." Short Stories for Students. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Literature
Resource Center. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
Munro, Alice. Boys and Girls. The Norton Introduction to Literature. Shorter
Eleventh edition. Ed. Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2013. 422-432. Print.