Boys and Girls by Alice Munro Summary

Alice Munro’s short story, “Boys and Girls,” has a very interesting detail written into it. The narrator’s brother is named Laird, which was carefully chosen by the author. Laird is a synonym for lord, which plays an important role in a story where a young girl has society’s unwritten rules forced upon her. At the time of the story, society did not consider men and women equal.

Symbolism in Names and Gender Roles

The name symbolized how the male child was superior in the parent’s eyes and in general. Along with that, the name also symbolizes the difference between the sexes when this story took place. The time when this story took place was a time when men and women were not equal. Mothers had traditional roles, which usually left them in the house, while men also had their roles, outside of the house. This is a recurring theme in many of Alice Munro’s famous works.

The male was the dominant figure in the house, while the woman had to be subservient. It was an off thing to see my mother down at the barn. She did not often come out of the house unless it was to do something – hang out the wash or dig potatoes in the garden. She looked out of place, with her bare lumpy legs, not touched by the sun, her apron still on and damp across the stomach from the supper dishes.

Struggles with Gender Expectations

Alice Munro boys and girls’ had problems coming to terms with the role in life that she was expected to lead. She wanted to work outside with her father doing the work that she deemed important. The mother tried to get the narrator to work inside doing work deemed appropriate for a lady, however it was not something she enjoyed. “I hated the hot dark kitchen in the summer” (p. 530). The narrator was not considered of any consequential help to her father, simply because she was female. “Could of fooled me,” said the salesman. “I thought it was only a girl” (p. 529). Even though the narrator could do more work than her younger brother, she was still underappreciated. “Wait till Laird gets a little bigger, then you’ll have a real help” (p. 530). Laird, on the other hand, was able to go out and do the things that he enjoyed. When Flora, the family’s horse, runs away Laird is invited to join the father and his assistant to recapture the horse, while the narrator must stay at home.

Boys and Girls Alice Munro Summary

When the narrator is reminiscing of the past, she recalls a time when she lured Laird up to the top of the barn. The whole purpose of this idea was to get Laird in trouble. However, when her parents come and remove Laird from danger, they are actually mad at her, instead of Laird. This shows how the parents were more concerned with their son and that he could do no wrong. This reflects society’s notion at the time, how men were always right.

“My father came, my mother came, my father went up the ladder talking very quietly and brought Laird down under his arm, at which my mother leaned against the ladder and began to cry. They said to me, “Why weren’t you watching him?” (p. 534) The grandmother is the best example of how women were thought of at the time. She is from a time when there were even stricter rules of conduct for girls. The narrator’s parents are more lackadaisical than the grandmother and a lot less outspoken.

Gender Norms and Expectations

She voices what was taught to her when she was a child. At the time of the story, girls were expected to be dainty and quaint, while a man was expected to be the rough and tumble one. “Girls don’t slam doors like that.” “Girls keep their knees together when they sit down.” And worse still, when I asked some questions, “That’s none of girls’ business.” I continued to slam the doors and sit as awkwardly as possible, thinking that by such measures I kept myself free. (p. 532)

The narrator, however, did not keep herself free. Eventually, she began to change and to become a stereotypical female. She began to conform to society’s ideas about women. This internal conflict and societal pressure are central themes in the “Boys and Girls summary.”

Realization of Gender Superiority

Near the end of the story, Laird starts to realize his sex-determined superiority. He explains to his father and mother how Flora escaped from the yard and also starts listening to his father almost exclusively. “We shot old Flora,” he said, “and cut her up in fifty pieces.” “Well, I don’t want to hear about it,” my mother said. “And don’t come to my table like that.” My father made him go and wash the blood off. (p. 536) Laird washes the blood off only after his father tells him to do so.

This shows the dominance of males in the society of the time. Laird may field his mother’s complaints, but only does something about it once his father tells him to do so. This shows how his father is the authority figure, that his mother secondary to his father. Even the daughter thinks lowly of the mother in comparison to the father. “It showed how little my mother knew about the way things really were” (p. 531).

Concluding Boys and Girls Alice Munro Summary

Alice Munro Boys and Girls takes place at a time where there is no such thing as equality between the sexes. Men in this society are the dominant, authoritarian heads of the household whose work is done outside the home. Women are expected to look after the men and their work is done in the home. This theme is common in many of Alice Munro famous works, including her novel “Lives of Girls and Women.”

The narrator in “Boys and Girls” slowly becomes accustomed to her role in society. The narrator and her brother symbolize the roles of males and females in that society. The narrator is forced into doing jobs that she doesn’t enjoy doing, namely those associated with women’s work at the time.

Laird is allowed to do what he pleases. Laird is the lord, as a male, he is deemed as the more important of the two, simply because of his sex, while the narrator is cast into her womanly role, being of secondary importance. This dynamic is central to understanding the boys and girls by Alice Munro summary and provides insight into the broader social commentary within the story.

Alice Munro’s Literary Legacy

Alice Munro is renowned for her detailed character studies and her exploration of complex social dynamics. “Boys and Girls” is just one example of her ability to capture the subtleties of human behavior and societal expectations. Among Alice Munro famous works, “Lives of Girls and Women” stands out for its similar themes of gender roles and personal identity, making it a compelling read for those interested in the issues explored in this Boys and Girls summary.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


  1. This story is about the romanticism of the main character. Gender roles, although important, are not the main theme of the story

  2. This is my take on the story:

    “In the short story written by Alice Munro, is about a young speaker living on a fox farm and has society’s unwritten rules forced upon her. The young speaker whose name is unknown and her younger brother Laird which plays a big role. The speaker is a hardworking, imaginative, and somewhat jealous girl. Being the eldest of the two the speaker works on the fox farm with her dad, carrying the role of a man. As described here, “He had fitted a tin drum on a wheelbarrow, for bringing water down to the pens. This was my job in the summer.” She did multiple chores and worked outside most of the day, willingly. Being the imaginative girl she was, every night when Laird was asleep she would adjust herself underneath the covers and “…went on with one of the stories I was telling myself from night to night.” She describes the stories and how they’re always surrounded with riding horses and shooting. Which is foreshadowing future events, including the shooting of her friend’s horses Mack and Flora. Lastly, her final trait, jealousy. It reflects the way things were at the time, she was jealous of Laird being he was a boy and she was a girl. Constantly struggling with society and her family trying to prove to her father that she was more than a girl. Laird is a great representation of this, as she struggles to match the strength he begins to accumulate. “Laird was getting a lot bigger. But I was getting bigger too.” Although in present time, we’ve “

  3. “A very interesting point of view.” – Limerick
    This is a good review of the facts and how they are presented in the text without going too much into psychological analysis. The author lists what happens chronologically with small interpretations (Laird = Lord, expected to act like a lady, etc.)
    I don’t know what you people understood from the text, but this review is pretty accurate.
    Again, this is a factual review, not a point of view.

  4. A very interesting point of view. I liked it very much. If the others (those who posted the previous replies)are men, I can see how it is THEY who missed the point of this story.

  5. Oh my… no, the story is about a girl who is trying to rebel against gender roles. Yes, in the end, the narrator is defeated, but the author is actually trying to illustrate how difficult it is to fight something that society is shoving down your throat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment