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Search for Identity in “Boys and Girls” In Alice Munro’s “Boys and Girls”, she tells us a story about a young girl’s rebellion to the womanhood prescribed by a society which has stereotyped views toward both sexes’ roles and identity in society. The story takes place in the 1940s when women have not gained so much equal rights as today, and they are still perceived as attached to males. The story is set is a fox family of Jubilee, Ontario, Canada, a rural area and the point of view of this story is first person “I”.
The narrator is the female protagonist whose name has never appeared in the story directly, which symbolizes her lack of identity in a patriarchal society compared with boy children. There is a character whose name is given to us, the narrator’s brother with the name of Laird, meaning Lord in the Scottish language. The choice of name can truthfully reflect women’s role and social position at that time as well as men’s priorities in a way.
Although women had no identity or social position at time, they are just the angel in the house as what they are expected to do, the narrator has never accepted this position and this unfairness easily and satisfactorily. She rebelled against those expectations the society had put on women. She tried hard to search for her identity in the society, to be “more that just a girl”. The search of identity is the major theme of Zhang 2 this little story, and such search can be best reflected on the narrator but also on her little brother.
Here, the author of this thesis will try to analyze the respective process of their search, and the results for search of identity will not be the same because of the difference in gender roles. The narrator’s search for identity can better be represented in the following scenes. Firstly, her nightly stories. Her desire and dream for acting like a hero to protect others in these fabricated stories are the reflection of her burning desire to be not just a girl and her wish for freedom that was just recognizable hers. Before bedtime, she loved to sing the song “Danny Boy”, differently from her brother who would sing “Jingle Bell” whether it is
Christmas or not. “I arranged myself tightly under the covers and went on with one of the stories that I was telling 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” (Munro, 115). The image she fabricated in these stories represented her ideal self, a girl, powerful independent, not “just a girl”, the complete opposite of the stereotyped” girl”, which her family wanted her to become and society expect her to become.
It represents her desire to transcend the stereotyped role prescribed to women. In the second place, her ungirly behavior can also represent her rebellious search for identity. This obvious resentment for society’s womanly duties symbolizes the narrator’s desire to be more than “just a girl”. For example, even after her grandmother criticized her with commands like, “Girls keep their knees together when they sit down” (Munro, 121). And “Girls don’t slam doors like that” (Munro, 121), She continued to slam doors and sit awkwardly because she felt that it kept her free.
In other words, she has not been prepared to accept and claim her gender identity. However, gradually, she began to take the identity of a girl. She began to decorate her room, her bed, pay more attention to her appearances when she communicates with her peers. In fact, after a long process of rebellious search for identity, she finally began to construct her identity as a girl, but a girl who is more than “just a girl”, a girl that finally achieves some freedom in her construction of identity. Thirdly, her desire to be outside of the house.
She is torn between the outside where her father introduces her to and the warm inside where her mother tried protecting her from the brutal outside. In that time, girls were expected to be a help mate to mothers, doing housework, cooking and cleaning and so on. However, she totally rebels against this household identity of women. She will escape from the house before her mother yelled her to do housework, and enjoys working beside his father. “I worked willing fully under his eyes, and with a felling of pride” ( Munro, 120).
Her father once introduced her to others as new hired hand. In this sense, her rebellion does make some difference in her life and she get some recognition in being not “just a girl”. Fourthly, the narrator’s association with and her identification with Flora also symbolizes her own thrust for freedom in metaphorical sense. The family would sometimes kill healthy horses that no longer had any use because the father fed his Zhang 4 foxes with horsemeat, and Flora was one of these horses, a beautiful female horse, violent and rebellious.
In an accident, Flora broke away and ran wildly in the barnyard. When her father tried to catch it and shout to her to close the door, she got there just in time to close it, but instead she held it open for Flora. “It was exciting to see her running, whinny-ing, going up on her hind legs, prancing and threatening like a horse in a Western movie” (Munro, 126). The act of her opening the gate and setting Flora free is a rebellious act against the authority of her father and her pursuit for freedom in metaphorical sense.
In the story, “Boys and Girls”, the narrator is not the only one who has come to terms with identity through search. Her little brother Laird also went through a process of searching for identity. Laird began in the story like a girl who is very timid, very obedient, just like his mother. In the beginning, he enjoyed more of the house than the outside world. He sings “Jingle Bell” before bed. However, gradually, he also developed her identity as a boy, perhaps under the aid of his elder sister whose desire for excitement drove her to do something fascinating and thrilling.
She once made Laird climb the ladder to the top beam, persuaded him to look how the old shoot a horse. In the end of the story, there is a scene in which Liard commented his sister’s singing as “you sound silly” and another scene in which he told his sister that “we shot old Flora”. All these demonstrate that she has found the identity a boy should have in a society. In the end, he has developed a desire to do the masculine things around the house, as expected to be done by boys.
Zhang 5 From the above analysis of the narrator’s and her brother’s search for identity in a society which tend to stereotyped the role of men and women, it is found that pure rebellion against the expectation does not make a girl more that “just a girl”, people should also try to come term with the society in a certain degree, because the construction of identity is a social integration, a social process. However, it does not mean to say that the narrator’s search did not have meaning. Actually it did help her to get some freedom and some peace in the heart.