The most significant relationship any person ever has is the relationship with their parents. Both stories under analysis Alices Munros Boys and Girls and Russell Smiths Responsibility, - scrutinize the relationship of the child with their parent of opposite gender. Despite the fact that the relationships in the stories are shown between children and parents of different ages the adolescent daughter with her father at the top of his fox-breeding career and middle-aged son with his elderly mother, - the two stories have a very important factor in common. This factor is the lack of understanding between children and parents due to different gender roles and partly historical frame expectations. Both James and the little girl at the fox farm fail to understand their parents values and beliefs either because of different life choices they make or merely age and gender difference.
At the beginning of Alice Munros story the father is seen as the most significant person in the childs life. At this point the reader cannot know whether the child is a girl or a boy. The author wants the reader to see that the child makes every effort to fit into the fathers world of fox breeding and pelting and later the reader understands why. The day father introduces his daughter to the sales man as his new hired hand is probably the climax of the little girls quality relationship with her father. She is still too young to fully embrace female duties at the kitchen and in the house with her mother and she is attracted by outdoor chores at her fathers fox farm. The phrase I thought it was only a girl said by the salesman demonstrates the general social attitude to girl and womans roles as something inferior and far less important than male occupations. At first the girl does not want to accept the prescribed gender patterns and let her mother use her more in the house. She is overwhelmingly drawn to the mans world, the smelly world of fox pens where she can work willingly under her fathers eyes, with a feeling of joy. She is not fully aware as this ardent desire to be part of her fathers world fades slowly after she sees her father kill a horse. Killing a horse shows the girl a different side to her fathers world pitiless and aggressive. She is instinctively repulsed by killing out of something else than a necessity to feed on. The next thing she does letting the female horse out of the gate - is her silent protest against the mans behavior patterns and the symbolic representation of the girls withdrawal from her fathers area of influence. She finally takes place where she is supposed to in the house. Her younger brother Laird is also influenced by seeing their father shoot the horse but in a drastically different way. Being so far distant from the duties at the farm due to his young age Laird suddenly gets drawn to mans business and life and joins the men chasing the horse while his sister stays at home with her mother. Thus, the father and the daughter understand each other as long as they are in the same boat working outside. The moment the girl matures enough to prefer the house, she and her father are distanced from each other and probably will never be close again.
The conflict in Russell Smiths short story Responsibility is somewhat similar. James makes an effort to make an effort to understand how his mother can be fully satisfied with the life she has chosen being just a housewife and mother. In his probably middle thirties his main ambition remains to get out, to get the hell out of there, out of quiet provincial life where nothing ever happens besides the fact that children are born and leave their parental house for good as soon as they can afford to. Despite his effort James fails to understand how one can be happy having just family commitment and without pursuing ones ambitions. As times change a womans role undergoes some meaningful changes and they can opt for career instead of or in addition to having a family. James pities his mother and at the same time feels that she didnt have a choice. What bothers James most of all is the fact that his mother does not seem bothered much by the fact that she spent her life raising him and his brother and running the house. He feels slightly indignant that his mother tries to make him embrace her values and have children just because everyone should do so and nice people dont do things for themselves.
Therefore, both stories demonstrate the absence of understanding between the closest relatives as the result of different gender roles and time expectations. Both James and the girl from the fox farm stop sharing the same values with their parents and acquire new beliefs that separate them from their mother and father respectively. As both of the families do not seem to spend much quality time talking this abyss of misunderstanding is probably never to be overcome.
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