Analysis of “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
“Girl,” a short story by Jamaica Kincaid, tells the narrative of a traditional Antiguan mother trying to teach her daughter the correct etiquette as she grows up. In the novel, she tells her daughter what to do and what to avoid as a young woman. The mother presents her daughter with a counsel list, rules, and directions. In this short story, an angry mother and her daughter have a one-sided conversation. Throughout, the girl made only two separate attempts to speak, once to defend herself and the second time to pose a question. The mother’s harsh tone may give the impression that the mother-daughter connection was strained. Additionally, the mother is a staunch traditionalist who insists on passing on to her daughter the values instilled in her when she was a young girl.
Kincaid employs a variety of symbols to enhance our comprehension of the story. When a girl does not know how to behave in public, it reflects poorly on the mother. It is a mother’s responsibility to instill moral values in her daughters. “Wash white clothing on Monday and put them in the stone pile; wash color garments on Tuesday and hang them to dry” (Kincaid). In the short narrative, the mother tells her children that white clothing cannot be mixed with colored clothing since it is inevitable to alter the color of white clothing or leave stains. Once the color has faded, there is no way to restore it and return it to its original white. Hence purity, innocence, and benevolence are all embodied in the color white.
A young girl’s innocence can never be regained once lost. People’s perceptions of her will be forever altered. “They look at you differently, as if you are unclean and no longer pure,” says the narrator. “They judge you” (Kincaid). The mother warns her daughter against becoming a prostitute in the story. In addition, parents apply different standards to their sons and daughters, expecting that their daughters will remain virgins until marriage. When you live on the islands, where everyone knows one other in small communities or villages, everything you do as a woman impacts you and your family (Jayasree). Additionally, the girl is taught how to smile even though she despises someone. This implies that the girl is taught how to sacrifice her own needs and identity for the comfort of others.
Household chores such as cleaning and ironing are typically taught to children from an early age in many Caribbean cultures. The reputations of those living on the islands are significant and delicate. When it comes to their children, parents are notorious for making assumptions. They frequently accuse them of something they have not committed. In the story, the mother speaks to her daughter harshly, but she never stops granting the girl an opportunity to speak. “Is it true that you sing benna at Sunday school?” (Kincaid). Calypso-like in style, the genre of benna features call-and-response songwriting and a focus on scandalous rumors. After slavery was abolished in the early 20th century, it emerged as a means of folk communication and conveyed local news across the islands ((Paravisini and Lizabeth). Benna was used as an outlet for gossiping among teenagers.
It is one thing for young girls to spread rumors, but it is quite another for them to do it at church, where it is prohibited and goes against everything their mother teaches them. Sinful and unethical to the pastor’s teachings, benna singing in the church goes against the church’s teachings. The daughter stops her mother for the first time in the story, claiming that she never sings benna, let alone sing it in church, as a defense. The girl’s protests are ignored by her mother, who proceeds with her list. Kincaid establishes the context for her depiction of the local culture, giving it authority and believability. Words like “dasheen” and “doukona,” which have a Caribbean ring to them, spice the mother’s instructions (Kincaid). These terms in the text reveal Kincaid’s Antiguan point of view. The author’s straightforward depiction of food evokes fond memories and demonstrates an awareness of the immediate surroundings. Culture and national identity are woven into culinary descriptions, emphasizing food as a vital aspect of the text.
Along with a lengthy list of guidelines and prohibitions, the mother also accused her daughter and made assumptions about her. The mother tells her daughter of the consequences if she ignores her advice and heads down the wrong path. The mother tells the daughter always to squeeze the bread to make sure it is fresh (Kincaid). For the second time in the story, the girl attempts to interrupt by asking questions. She asks the mother suppose the baker does not allow her to feel the bread. The mother replied with a question challenging her if she believed she would be the kind of woman the baker would not allow her near the bread. There are two options for dealing with stale bread: either throw it out or lower the price of the bread. Because of this, getting rid of it is less expensive and more effortless. Moreover, the baker would not allow any harlot girl’s disgusting odor to permeate the bread because no one would purchase them.
Throughout the novel, the mother cautioned her daughter against being a slut. It is not easy to restore when a person’s reputation is tarnished. As children, we learn the most from our mothers. The majority of what we know comes from our mothers. Even though she is sincere, the mother in Jamaica Kincaid’s short tale “Girl” does not always know how to convey her thoughts and feelings effectively (Paravisini and Lizabeth). Despite her best efforts to pass on cultural customs to her daughter, she contradicts herself by accusing her of being a slut, which is not very motherly of her. However, the mother teaches her daughter how to be a housewife and conduct herself in public to maintain her status as a respectable woman. It is her job.
Kincaid employs the lack of character descriptions in this story to allow the reader to create their image of the characters, whether it be someone they have imagined or themselves. Context clues can lead the reader to believe that the story occurs when technology is not as advanced as today, but it is not explicitly stated (Jayasree). While the fundamental theme of the story is that women are assigned a specific household function in society and must adhere to a set of standards to be accepted by their peers, the narrative can be interpreted differently by the reader. By placing Antigua in the girl’s position and British rule in the mother’s place, the reader can comprehend a different message that Kincaid is attempting to convey- the domestic role of Antigua under British rule.
Jayasree, K. “Linguistic-Literary Camouflage in Jamaica Kincaid’s” Girl.” IUP Journal of English Studies, vol. 13, no. 2, 2018.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Girl. San Francisco Examiner, 1991.
Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. Jamaica Kincaid: a critical companion. Greenwood Press, 1999.