Alice Munro: Short Stories

Unorthodox Gender Roles in “Boys and Girls” and “The Yellow Wall-paper”

Judith Fetterly coined the term “immasculation” in her 1978 book “The Resisting Reader,” using it to define the process by which “women are taught […] to identify with a male point of view and to accept as normal and legitimate a male system of values” (3). In the short stories “Boys and Girls,” by Alice Munro, and “The Yellow Wall-paper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the narrators can be thought of as immasculated readers of themselves. Munro’s unnamed speaker—a young girl who initially finds more joy outdoors assisting with man’s archetypal work than in a “hot dark kitchen” with her mother—“[would] not evolve naturally into [a] gendered adult” if she did not accept her femaleness and embrace femininity (Goldman 62). Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-paper” is an unreliable narration that conveys gender oppression in the form of “[the female protagonist’s] well-meaning but insensitive husband” (Martin 736). At times, both Munro’s and Gilman’s narrators defy gender conventions; the young girl’s is a story of growth that features a symbolic rite of passage, while the oppressed woman seeks meaning and independence despite deterioration of the mind.

Munro introduces the protagonist as impressionable and deferential to her patriarch father....

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