Analysis Of Girl By Jamaica Kincaid
Elaine Polter Richardson was a young girl who lived with her parents in a Caribbean Island. She was living in a poverty household but that did not change the relationship she had with her mother. Elaine and her mother were very close until the age of nine. After, Elaine had brothers her relationship with her mother changed and made a huge impact in her life specifically because she was a young lady who could take care of herself in the eyes of her mother. Later then Eliane felt as if her mother did not pay enough attention to her anymore. In addition, her father was never in the picture which could help signify why Elaine felt a drastic change in her life. Elaine was sent to work with a wealthy family so she could send the money she worked hard for to her family who was living in poverty, but after working for so long she decided to leave, and go to school for literature. After she became recognized by the New York Times she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid because she wanted to remain anonymous. Therefore, in the story named “Girl” it helps illustrate a relationship between a mother and a daughter giving her advice on how to become a successful woman by stating the importance of respect, value, society, and how a lady should carry herself in different situations.
In 2013 Jamaica was interviewed by The New York Times and states that she is a person who enjoys staying in bed reading books in pajamas while she is left alone. This depicts that she spends most of her free time reading books while she knows that she has everyday chores like laundry, sweeping, cooking, and growing special plants to grow medicine. For example, in the story “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid it states, “wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the colored clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline”. This helps the reader understand that Jamaica’s mother told her what her daily routine should be in order to become a woman with domesticity. She needed to have chores finished, food cooked, and laundry folded with no crease lines in order to become a successful woman. However, one can say that her mother was trying to give her daughter advice on how to become ladylike in order to be ready for the real world by suggesting what she should do.
On the other hand, Jamaica states that she was surprised on how she left her job and went to school instead of listening to her mother when she told her the importance of being a stay at home mom. Equality made a huge impact in Jamaica’s live because not only is she a woman but she had a close relationship with her mother until she had brothers which could result the importance of neglect of her mother. For example, she was told to act, walk, and eat like a lady in public and home. However, men are never told how to act in public surroundings, yet they disrespect and look down upon women. For instance, it is stated “always eat your food in such a way that it won’t someone else’s stomach; on Sunday’s try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming”. This explains that her mother wanted to see her daughter representing herself not as a figure but as a woman with respect.
In society, no one enjoys hearing the loud crunch of loaded cheesy nachos from a woman with her mouth open. However, men do not pay attention on etiquette manners when they are eating, yet they are not told anything due to their gender. This can help the reader understand that Jamaica’s mother Annie Richardson wanted her daughter to be seen with respect by the way she represents herself in society. Although, Jamaica was told to do chores such as laundry, food, and be a women with respect she was never encouraged to go to school like her brothers were. Jamaica most likely was not encouraged to go to school like her brothers because her mother Annie was helping her become a woman who stays at home while her husband goes to work. Jamaica Kincaid stated, “my brothers were going to be Prime Minister, one a doctor, one a Minister things like that. I never heard anybody say that I was going to be anything”.
Kincaid’s mother Annie wanted her daughter to be a smart woman, so that she could provide for her family by cooking, cleaning, and making medicine for them. Jamaica could act like a man or maybe even have multiple husbands however, it was important for her mother that she was not a “slut”. For instance, it states “this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so prevent yourself from looking like a slut”. This signifies that Kincaid was a woman that is smart enough and should not expose skin because she has value by the knowledge that she has due to her mother giving her advice. Usually women who expose their body are not respected and valued due to having a lack of respect for themselves. In addition, society has an important role in Jamaica Kincaid’s story because her mother is giving her advice on how to act around different people. For example, “this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely”. Women are supposed to be well mannered and generous with everyone to be seen as a woman with dignity. This is why her mother helps her daughter act like a woman should at all times because society has an impact on people’s attitude and who they truly are.
Overall, Jamaica Kincaid had a close relationship with her mother which could signify why she wrote this story. Later, she felt like her mother stopped showing her attention and backed away from her family. This could be mainly to focus on herself and to go to school. However, her parents were raised in a different lifestyle which could help determine why they did not encourage Kincaid in furthering her school.
A Reflection Of Jamaica Kincaid’s Real-life Story In Girl
‘Girl’ was written by Jamaica Kincaid and it’s one-story people would get really attached with. This story can maybe make you feel different feelings about him because of her language, however, Jamaica Kincaid has not had the greatest life. Unspeakable things happened to her at home and that leads her to flee at only 17 years old. This short story shows what a mother should teach her daughter. To show her how to survive in this world from advice on society, her home and she shouldn’t listen to anyone else, but her mom because she is always “right.’ She wants her daughter to be a respectful woman. Her mom always saw herself not being a top tier woman, she always disliked this. She changed herself, but the society that she lived in made it impossible. It was a society that was meant for keeping people in their territory. Kincaid said enough suffices and left for New York where she could make money to send to her family. Being away from her hometown has brought a toll on her and reconsider her life, she reflected feelings on her life she changed it totally.
Kincaid was born in the year 1949 in the island of St. John’s in the Caribbean. Her family was not poor nor rich. Her mom was always the one who took care of things around the house who was looking after the house, and her stepdad was a hard worker. Kincaid always thought that she was very poor growing up. This event shows us that, Kincaid had a high standard in life, more than the Caribbean society could offer her. This event is a girl that is black, living in a time in which society sees her different. Kincaid when she was very young, had a lot of dreadful work from replacing oil, doing the clothes, taking care of her brothers and even carried buckets of heavy pounds of water. They didn’t grow up with the devices that we have today her country was not up to date with many of the technology, so it made a lot of things slow for them. She was interested in her studies and was one of the best at her school. Academics brought her happiness and something she never experienced. Being 13 and simply having 3 younger brothers being born was very hard and that took her away from her studies to look after them more. She gave up her future for her brothers and which was a noble thing to do. She wanted something better, though she hated taking care of the kids, she wanted a better life. She always thought it was unfair. One day, she just picked up a book and started reading. Her mother burnt all the books that she used to love, but we don’t know why. Later on, Kincaid actually decided to leave her family and moved all the way to the big city of New York to help out her family to gain more income. She needed to do this for her family because her stepdad got really sick and stopped working. She stepped up to be the man of the house, and she did it. Being away from home has brought Kincaid to start to critically and analyze her life, her future, and other things. She noticed that she was a girl of color she was always being used by everybody, she always had a foggy mind, having no interests. With all this, and she realized that this Caribbean life was not for her. She was unable to go back to that lifestyle, especially after going to New York and seeing a different lifestyle. With all this added up, she decided enough was enough and changed her full name, left her family and started her life at only 17 but she was strong enough to put her life in order. Later, her writing career started. When she read Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘In the Waiting room,’ this event inspired her to write ‘girl.’
‘Girl’ was a reflection on Kincaid’s real-life story. The story is talking about a girl who lives in Antigua. You don’t get this from the text but from the obvious clues she left about her culture and such. Other than that, the story does that tell a setting or time of where its placed. The main part in this story is that an older woman being “Kincaid” the author teaching her daughter how to live in their society of today, especially from moving to a small Caribbean country to New York. ‘don’t walk bare-head in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum in it, because that way it won’t hold up well after a wash’ these are only a few examples of where the mother goes on and on saying what she should and should not do in this life. However, people have to also remember that the mom and daughter came up in different times. This is why the daughter does not become what her mother expects her to be. Let’s talk about the skills that she wants to daughter to meet. She first starts off with how to set the table, how to clean the little parts you can’t see and so on. She also teaches her how to smile at someone you don’t patricianly might like. She thinks it’s important to be “fake” in this type of society which just makes her more pretend. Her mom thinks that she is too little to process this information, so she has to explain it in detail for everything she says.
The mom is very doubtful that the daughter won’t be able to catch on to these skills and use them in her daily life in the future.
It all adds up now why the mom thought the daughter how to feel the bread before getting it from the store. The daughter asked, “what if the baker does not let her feel the bread” and her mom said that’s when you will figure out what kind of woman you are meant to be. Someone who will not touch the bread or will fight till the end to touch that bread. The story at the end of the day is showing what a horrible life the mother had growing up in the Caribbean as a colored woman in the 20th century.
Food and clothes play a big role into the story. It shows that the mother was really big with her lifestyle and always wanted the best type of clothes and food. She is so used to living in a lifestyle where the dad goes and gets the money and works for the family while the mom just stays home doing housework and looking over the kids. She found this very foolish and old-school. It could be called traditional but in the society that we live in today it does not work like that. It’s more of a competition nowadays. Mom also is very big on the behavior of her daughter she gives tells her a lot of stuff like “on Sundays try and walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming”. This shows that the mom is very big on her daughter not becoming a “hoe”. Mom only wants her daughter to find a good man to live a healthy and wealthy lifestyle in the future. Of course, the topic of sex is brought in because she’s talking about her future. Her mom gives her some warnings like keep your dress down always. It gets a little cruel when she talks about throwing away babies. This shows her belief on that topic even after she has her daughter. By throwing away of course she is referring to having an abortion which was not fairly common during that time. The mom shows the girl how to cook pumpkin fritters, bread pudding, and pepper pot. These are some traditional Caribbean meals and it shows that the mom is still very cultured and that hasn’t left from her. She thought the girl how to keep things clean, was the table, set up the table. This shows her mom’s routine everyday what she had to go through while she was raising the girl, to show how difficult it is. The mom shows her how to iron clothes especially for her man because that can reflect on her.
This short story is a simple mother to daughter talk. She goes on and on what to do what not to do, but at the end of the day the daughter is her own person. She will do what she wants to at the end. She will wear what she wants, she will eat what she wants, marry who she wants, and simple just do whatever she wants. When you look at each thing her mother tells her you could tell she has fears. Fears that won’t go away because she’s been through them. A mother at the end of the day always wants to protect her child to the fullest and this is her way of showing how to protect her. Now it’s on the daughter to see if she will go through with these changes or will this just make her more defiant. The mother was somewhat harsh on calling her a slut, talking about abortion, and who to marry. She had a horrible tone throughout the whole story, and I think the daughter will see that. Learning to handle fear and overcome it is the best way even if it’s for a few seconds.
“Jamaica Kincaid.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Oct. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamaica_Kincaid.
“Girl by Jamaica Kincaid Summary.” SparkNotes, https://www.sparknotes.com/short-stories/girl/
Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid from Charters, Ann, Ed. The Story and its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. 6th Ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003 http://www.saginaw-twp.k12.mi.us/view/8490.pdf
“Girl by Jamaica Kincaid: Summary, Theme & Analysis Video” Study.com, 9 Mar. 2018, https://study.com/academy/lesson/girl-by-jamaica-kincaid-summary-theme-analysis.html.
Girl by Jamaica Kincaid Shmoop.com https://www.shmoop.com/girl-kincaid/
Analysis Of The Mother’s Tone In Girl By Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ shows us the stifling reinforcement of gender norms through a claustrophobic and domineering style. The recollection of an unnamed girl’s mother allows us to experience the exponentially rising expectations of childhood, and later early womanhood. Although the mother ultimately wants nothing but the best for her daughter, her rising interference ends up feeling suffocating rather than motherly.
‘Girl’ frequently uses a paradoxical tone to highlight how the mother dispensing her advice feels less about character building rather, and about upholding her society’s standards on how to be a woman. The Mother’s advice seems to jump between stoic, no-nonsense advice such as “this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard” and crude accusations such as “like the slut you are so bent on becoming”. This jarring and uneven tone is meant to make us question how appropriate the mother’s advice is, can we really trust the advice of a mother who thrice in the extract accuses her daughter of being promiscuous simply for not attainting every standard she had set up for her? The frequent usage of words and phrases such as “always”, “this is how” and “make sure” keeps an imposing tone throughout the entire piece, there is little to no wiggle room for the daughter to interpret the advice. There is little doubt that the Mother wants to maintain a constant discipline in the Girl’s daily life, but the tone makes it clear that it her standards have become repressive.
But the almost-impossible standards imposed by the Mother can also be reflected in the very form of the piece; written as a huge, singular paragraph, Kincaid leaves little room for the reader to breathe. With no descriptive prose nor paragraphs, and relying solely on a single connected string of dialogue, it is in essence like a group of commands that one is trying to regurgitate from memory. To compound on this, the constant repetition of the phrase “this is how” in lines such as “this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a buttonhole for the button you have just sewed on” adds a mechanical feel to the advice, like the Mother is coding a piece of software rather than teaching advice to a human. The advice is further denaturalised by order in which it is presented, in which the lines of advice are grouped together by subject matter (such as cooking, hosting, sewing) rather than in chorological order to the girl’s life. This further dehumanised the advice to feel like a sheet of instructions rather than a piece invoking motherly care. The utilitarian structure of the piece coupled with constant reiteration of commands not only reinforces just how strict and unflinching the Mother’s parenting habits are, but how gender roles can feel regimental and impersonal.
Futhermore, Kincaid shows the uneven dynamic in the relationship between the two by ensuring that the Mother’s own voice dominates the extract. The Mother’s dialogue makes up the absolute majority, with the Girl receiving a mere two lines of dialogue. Neither do these lines have agency, they are both retorts to the mother, as seen in “but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school”. When one takes into account that the mother doesn’t even dignify the retort with a response, it shows an unfair power dynamic between the two. Nothing is learnt by the mother through the daughter. Neither does she seem willing to entertain questions by the daughter as seen in “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?” and her response of “you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread”. There is no attempt to assure her, and the lack of a question mark makes it clear she has no doubt in her message, showing that she feels absolute conviction in the guidance she is dispensing while refusing to see things from her daughter’s point of view.
It may be easy to think of the Mother has being cruel, but it is more complicated than that. Despite her harsh, unflinching tone, her guidance is done with motherly intentions. She only wants her daughter to grow up to become a well-functioning adult, her advice of “his is how to make ends meet;” and “this is how to love a man, and if this doesn’t work there are other ways “(Kincaid) makes this very clear. But with the overwhelming and repressive way in which the advice is delivered, she leaves little room for personal growth, and the Mother is a warning about the stifling role that gender norms can impose upon a child.
Stereotyping And Gender Issues In Girl By Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid is an American writer of the Caribbean (namely, Antiguan) descent, born in 1949. Her literary works mirror her perception of life through the prism of the experiences of living in a traditional Antiguan family, where women take a secondary position, as well as her coming of age, separating from her roots, and gaining independence. Her writings are a reference to the colonial past of her mother-island, too. Jamaica Kincaid’s relationships with her family, in particular, with her mother, have affected her writings, and the short story Girl is one such instance.
In Girl, written in 1983, Kincaid tells of the mother-daughter relationship from the point of a mother, showing how and what the mom teaches her growing, probably adolescent girl. In regards to the theme, Girl strongly suggests that a woman should be domestic and lowly, and there is a certain way that she should act, which is a very traditional, old-fashioned perspective, the parental point of view based on stereotypes and gender issues typical for the traditional Antiguan society. At first thought, readers might think that the short story simply describes the list of instructions a caring mother gives to her teenage daughter. From the mother’s perspective, offering such a comprehensive number of things to do and to be, and to avoid doing and being, is a great help for the girl, a guide to resort to in a variety of life situations. The author shows that the mother shares all her common household wisdom, therefore, trying to raise her girl as a good wife and a good woman. The mother’s speech is a nonstop recitation of pieces of advice, and the daughter hardly can thrust in a word. There are only two instances in the story, when the girl actually says something, “but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school” and “what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?” (Kincaid 321). Her words remain either unanswered or become interpreted as a diagnosis of her growing into a blameworthy woman. The mother is strict, and she does her best to show how important the modesty and dignity are in their society, “On Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming” (Kincaid 320). This phrase sounds particularly appalling from the mother’s lips, considering that the girl is rather young that she still plays marbles with boys in the street (doing what she should not crouch like a boy, according to her mom) and probably does not view boys as sexual objects yet. Still, it seems the mother’s duty in the traditional Antiguan society of the time, to prevent the girl from becoming a slut, teaching her from the very young age.
From the context of the story, it might seem that the mother is just commonly, casually, advices her daughter this and that, however, the phrases like “prevent yourself from looking like a slut” (Kincaid 320) must reflect the social stereotypes and the generation gap between the mother and the daughter. There is little trust between the two, so the mother suspects her girl in longing to be loose with boys, and she does not trust her daughter when the girl says she does not sing the nasty benna gossip songs in Sunday school. At the same time, the mother does not explain or go into much detail why a decent girl would need to know how to abort the pregnancy “before it even becomes a child”, and why the mother as a presentable example to follow knows the recipe in the first place. Whatever the behavior, the mother’s fear of social judgment and of her daughter doing something wrong, rules her attitude towards the child and thus distances the mom from the girl.
The other topic in Girl relates to the gender issue and the position a woman takes in the local society of the time. All the advice pieces are very useful, from sewing the buttons, to cooking, to washing, to cleaning, to growing plants, to ironing, to minding the personal hygiene. However, the monotonous way of teaching, the endless list of rules and demands sound like prescribing the girl with her role of a housewife that relates to her gender and her place. Traditional societies seldom see their growing girls as future Ministers, scientists, doctors, or other influential people. Women must know their place, within their families, live according to the olden rules, know how to act decent, stay put, sweep the corner, the room, and the yard, and nothing more. This opinion of the writer is the underlying message behind the mother’s advice in Girl, and this is Jamaica Kincaid’s life experience of growing in a family with three brothers. Their parents have expected the brothers to succeed in careers, and the daughter – to provide for the family working as an au pair in the USA, which the author decided to avoid, cutting the ties with her family. Her biography has certainly influenced the context of the short story, since this singsong tone of the mother’s preachments in Girl defines the place and the role the girl is about to have in her family and in her society – secondary, obedient, speechless, and necessarily not slutty.
In conclusion, Jamaica Kincaid tries to show in her Girl, that in the traditional Antiguan society a woman should be morally good and never raise suspicions about her chastity, as well as take proper care of her household and know how to tend the husband and the children well. A woman seems to bear the secondary role, and at all times, she is under a cloud of suspicion regarding her innocence. Also, a woman has to mind her place as the wife of the house, which implies the gender issue is tough in Antigua at the time the story comes out. The author also emphasizes stereotyping and suspecting the girl of a slutty behavior even if the hem of her dress does not look neat or properly sewn. It looks like the parents tend not to trust their girls and they challenge their purity, stereotyping and increasing the generation gap. As even a simple question about the baker not letting the girl touch the bread to check its freshness, evokes comments like “you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?”.
Analysis Of Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl Through A Historical/Biographical Approach
Every day, tons of children especially teenage females endure the domineering parental nature due to the stereotypes imposed by society. The injustices, prejudices, and discriminations against particular a sex plays a significant role in teens abandoning their families and societies when given an opportunity. Jamaica Kincaid and the young daughter from her short story Girl are ideal examples of teen girls being targeted due to the specific gender roles developed in the communities. Approaching to Kincaid’s Girl through a historical/biographical lens, it is evident that the daughter represents the author in her adolescence. As the dictatorial and oppressive parenting style of Kincaid’s mother, after she had three sons in quick succession is similar to the harsh and autocratic mother to daughter relationship from the short story Girl. Besides that, both Kincaid and the girl were challenged by the unjust and prejudicial treatments caused by the different societal roles that boys and girls adhere to. Thus, the dominant parenting and biased gender roles imposed by society indicate how the experiences of the author are reflected in the main protagonist from the piece Girl.
First of all, the domineering mother-daughter relationship is apparent in both the author’s life, as well as the life of the girl in her short story. As, at the age of nine a sudden change came into Kincaid’s life with the subsequent births of her three brothers. This changed her relationship with her mother drastically. Her mother’s love had been severely diminished and she had been inexplicably rejected and cast out. For instance, she was an intelligent student and also won a scholarship to a school affiliated under the British system of education. However, her mother forced her to withdraw from school to support the family and to take care of her ill stepfather. It appears that Kincaid’s mother does not think about the social aspect of her daughter’s life. According to this, the bossy parenting can lead to resentfulness within familial relationships and in one’s behaviours. Correspondingly, authoritative parenting is illustrated in the entire Kincaid’s story Girl. The short story substantially consists of the mother’s outlook. As the use of semicolons and the avoidance of full stop or periods is greatly stressed throughout, showing the dominance of the mother over her daughter. Despite the fact that the things she has been instructing are beneficial for the daughter from her point of view. However, she is not willing to accustom the standpoint of the girl. For instance, mother says, ‘…don’t sing benna in Sunday school;…’ and in response, the daughter’s thinking is shown as ‘but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school’. This illustrates how the mother is not even taking the account of the possibility that the girl already avoids singing benna in Sunday school. Thus, in this regard, the imperious and dominant nature of the mother can be advantageous but quite exasperated for the daughter.
Other than the despotic and repressive parenting, both Kincaid and the girl from her short story are impeached by the unjust gender roles and stereotypes imposed by society. These separate gender-specific roles have driven families apart from each other. As in Kincaid’s case, she was forced to support the family when her family was going through hard times; while her brothers were encouraged to attend school and universities to study further. As well as, she was sent to the United States to work as an ‘au pair’ for a wealthy family with an expectation that she will send her earned money back home to her family. However, instead of sending money back home, the rebellious Kincaid distanced herself from her family. After self-exiling herself in America, she shaped her new life away from the misery and discomfort she had felt in Antigua. For this reason, inflicting different societal roles based on sex can lead to differences within a family. Similarly, in Kincaid’s Girl, the instructions and ideas given by the mother are prejudicially distinct of women in society. For instance, the mother says, ‘…don’t squat down to play marbles — you are not a boy…’. This illustrates how society believes that there are some activities, only meant for boys, and females cannot or should not take part in them. More importantly, the girl is repeatedly labeled as a ‘slut’, exemplifying the discrimination against females. As well as, showing the ills of the society and how these stereotypes inaugurate the gap between the sexes. Due to certain cultural characteristics; unfair treatment against teen girls has negatively shaped their behaviour and familial relationships.
Kincaid, Jamaica. “Girl.” The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolff, Vintage, 1994, pp. 306-07.
How Narrative Structure Can Send a Message
Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl communicates strong messages about both society’s expectations of women, and the way that certain things told to someone can have a large impact on them. The piece is written in the form of a continuous list. This style emulates our inner stream of consciousness and emphasizes the many messages expressed in the story and their lasting impact. The narrative form does a lot for the story, creating deeper meaning, and allowing the speaker to connect to readers more effectively.
Kincaid highlights the overbearing expectations of women in society through the story’s list consisting of countless demands. Though it does not directly address who is speaking or giving the orders, they can be interpreted as lessons and cautionary advice given by a mother or mentor figure to a “Girl,” like the one referenced in the title. The list can be seen as the girl’s inner thoughts, as she recalls what has been told to her, the messages running through her mind. The commands are given as guidance and explain standards to the girl, telling her to “always eat your food in such a way that it won’t turn someone else’s stomach,” and to “try to walk like a lady.” The girl acts as a symbol for all girls, and the list of commands can be understood as standards set for all women. With the entire story being a list of such commands, Kincaid stresses how many standards there are for girls and how high the expectations are. The stipulations being rattled off to the girl in such a long list helps Kincaid to make a point about how much pressure is put on girls, suggesting that society can be oppressive to women.
The story itself does not blatantly affirm the speaker’s emotions, but its structure mirrors her thoughts and thus reveals her reaction to all of the pressure exerted on her. The continuous flow of ideas reflects a stream of consciousness, familiar to all readers. Most people can relate to certain things said to them that linger in their mind, sometimes being repeated over and over, like a mother’s advice teaching you “how you set a table for lunch.” The messages that are cemented in our minds and repeated this way are the ones that really mean something to us; they are important lessons we need to remember that have a strong impact on us. Kincaid gives readers a look into the mind of the girl. She doesn’t have to candidly say how the girl feels because she shows what is going on in her mind. As the list that reflects her inner thoughts, Kincaid reveals how deeply impacted the girl is by all of the things she is being told to do. Kincaid shows that these messages are all the girl can think about, and everything said to her has been completely internalized, suggesting that she is completely overwhelmed by it.
By embodying the girl’s inner thoughts, Kincaid is able to connect with her audience on a deeper level. Everyone can relate to the way past conversations repeat in your mind. The tone is also familiar to readers; the many pieces of advice and instructions for everyday life, warning you to be sanitary because “you might catch something” are given in the same voice any parent would use mentoring a child. This familiarity enables Kincaid to more effectively connect with readers, but specific word choice and certain phrases allow her to connect to readers on an even deeper, emotional level. Though some of the messages listed in the story are positive and guiding, others are more accusatory and crude. With all of the messages going through her mind, the girl remembers several demeaning things said to her, like advice given so that people “won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming.” By including messages like this, with vulgar word choice calling the girl a “slut,” Kincaid evokes an emotional reaction from readers, who imagine a mother telling her daughter to “prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are.” In doing this Kincaid is able to capture the reader’s attention more, and create a sense of anger through her display of society’s standards for girls. As the list is also compiled of almost all things told to the girl, only two short phrases put in italics represent her own dialogue. The girl replies to two of the instructions given to her. In one of these instances she defends herself when she is accused of singing benna in Sunday school and told not to; she says “but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school.” The two times that the girl replies back are also relatable to readers as they resemble a desperate reply to the messages repeating in her mind; she is talking back. She is only speaking in her thoughts, however, which most people can relate to as a moment when you think back to a conversation and come up with comebacks or words that you wish you said to someone in that conversation. By including these two moments where the girl’s own words are used, Kincaid is able to further connect with readers. The fact that the entire piece represents the thoughts going through the girl’s mind, yet only two short phrases are her own dialogue, where she inwardly defends herself, shows how strongly the instructions and orders stick with her; they are the only things going through her mind. It also suggests a sense of oppression as this is all that matters to her, and she has no voice and no further personal opinions besides the two brief occasions that she uses her own words.
Kincaid uses unique narrative structure to create deeper meaning and to better connect with her readers. By mirroring the speaker’s inner thoughts, she presents the issue of society’s damaging and overbearing standards for women. In showing the way that high expectations and excessive instruction internally impacts girls, she is able to address the problem of society’s oppressive view of women and get readers more engaged in the topic.
Representations of Caribbean Women in “Girl”
Mothers usually have their children’s best interest at heart, guiding them through life at an attempt to prevent offspring from repeating their own mistakes. In the short story, “Girl,” Kincaid depicts her teenage years after her mother gave birth to Kincaid’s three younger brothers in succession. The psychological perspective of this story raises many questions from critics on whether or not the mother’s state of mind and outlook on women altered after she gave birth to her three sons. Kincaid’s story amplifies there is an importance in cultural standards, gender roles and sex, and behaviors among Caribbean women. Throughout the story, the speaker portrays herself to be the mother and gives her daughter advice in several different areas of life, which greatly confuses Kincaid.
According to Kincaid, in the Caribbean culture, there may be more reinforced, strict, and ridged expectations of gender roles. In the story, Kincaid’s Caribbean mother reinforces these ideals by making it clear she is trying to help Kincaid reach this standard which the mother, herself, likely grew up in. The mother makes a mention of her childhood standards by stating: “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap,” and continues directing her daughter to wash the color clothes on Tuesday and to let them dry on the clothesline (Kincaid 95). One critic, Carol Bailey, also argues “Girl” implies there are certain standards for young Caribbean women. Bailey critiques how the speaker in Kincaid’s story is repetitive when she mentions “the slut you are so bent on becoming.” Carol Bailey explains, “The variations of this expression recur throughout the text and might be one of the seemingly obvious lines that suggests the speaker’s complicity with the system and illustrates her efforts to shape a woman who performs the script of chastity appropriately” (109).
The oppression of gender roles can also restrict a woman’s ability to navigate sex and sexuality. In the text, Kincaid’s mother states her daughter is walking like a “slut” by suggesting: “[O]n Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming” (Kincaid 96). Kelly Falla critiqued this topic by stating, “The mother thinks the daughter has already set herself up for a life of promiscuity. The mother even goes to the extreme of instructing her daughter on ‘how to make medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child.’ This is a clear concoction to remedy an unwanted pregnancy” (Falla 3). The repeated shaming of appearance and its link to promiscuity portrays the mother had internalized issues about her own gender’s ability to be sexual. The fact Kincaid’s mother knew about an abortion recipe confirms she may have used it herself before.
Throughout the short story, the young girl does not seem to completely understand her mother’s instructions on how to behave. The daughter reaffirms she does not understand by speaking in the text. She asks: “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?” (96). Kincaid ends the story with the mother’s vague response to her daughter’s question about feeling the bread: “[Y]ou mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?” (96). According to Kim Becnel, “The most obvious meaning of the mother’s question is the implication that the girl will, indeed, grow up to be a ‘slut’ and, therefore, due to her lack of virtue, will not be allowed to handle the bread.” Becnel goes on to mention, “It is, however, also possible to interpret it as the mother’s shock that her daughter, whom she has been so certain will grow up to be promiscuous, will, in fact, be such a virtuous and unavailable woman that she will be unable to entice the baker into letting her touch his bread with all the sexual connotations therein implied.”
While it appears there are many possibilities the mother feels could happen to her daughter, the daughter still questions her mother’s true intentions. This leads the mother to be more concerned, implying some of these situations are inevitable. The mother’s interpretation of her daughter’s responses leads her to believe her daughter could be taken advantage of one of these days. The mother’s ideology of cultural standards, gender roles and sex, and behaviors confirms there is an unwritten rule about how Caribbean women should act.
Bailey, Carol. “Performance and The Gendered Body in Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ And Oonya Kempadoo’s Buxton Spice.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 10.2 (2010): 106-123. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Sept. 2016
Becnel, Kim. “Literary Contexts in Short Stories Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.” Literary Contexts in Short Stories: Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ (2007): 1. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
Falla, Kelly. “Theme Analysis of “Girl” by Jamaica Kinkaid.” 2011. Microsoft Word file.
Kincaid, Jamica. “Girl.” Portable Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed. Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell. 9th ed. Boston: 2015. 95-96. Print.
Life’s Personal autonomy and freedom
Most teenagers go through a time when they believe that their parents are too overbearing and strict with them. Although this is a normal feeling to have on occasion growing up, Jamaica Kincaid’s novel Lucy reveals the intense situation of an over-bearing parent. Through the novel, we follow the titular protagonist’s escape from this predicament, and from the miserable life that she is living. Lucy decides to begin a new life in America, away from her family and friends and we read the cyclical story of her experience in her new home. Lucy’s ambition to create a new, independent life in America stems from her need to overcome her melancholy past growing up, nonetheless this desire affects her ability to form connections with the people she meets. Lucy’s toxic relationship with her mother is a major component of why she needed to create such an independent life for herself.
Although it is apparent that Lucy knew her mother loved her, she saw this love as a burden. When Lucy describes her mother’s love she says, “I had come to feel that my mother’s love for me was designed solely to make me into an echo of her; and I didn’t know why, but I felt that I would rather be dead than become just an echo of someone.” (Kincaid 40). She then follows this statement by saying “Thoughts like these had brought me to be sitting on the edge of a Great Lake with a women who wanted to show me her world” (Kincaid 40). Through these quotes we see that Lucy hated the fact that her mother wanted her to be just like her. She also hated the fact that her mother could not grasp why Lucy did not want to be exactly like her, and that is what drove her away. Of course we can see through the novel that Lucy never hated her mother, in fact, deep down she really loved her. This can be seen when Lucy says, “I would hear sounds in our house that made me sure my mother had died and the undertaker had come to take her body away. Each morning when I saw her face again, I trembled inside with joy.” (Kincaid 102). Although we can see that Lucy loved her mother, she believed admitting this to herself would cause her to turn into her mother all together, and never be the independent women she yearned to be. As you can see, throughout Lucy’s upbringing her mother was very overbearing. This causes Lucy to want to live an extremely independent life, which then results in her becoming emotionally detached from all other people.
On the other hand, Lucy does not allow herself to become emotionally attached to the men she meets because of her need to be independent. This idea can be seen in her relationship with Hugh. She repeatedly says she is not in love with Hugh, and that being in love would “complicate her life”. She conspicuously states, “I was only half a year free of some almost unbreakable bonds, and it was not in my heart to make new ones.” (Kincaid 76). Here she is clearly stating that she does not have the desire to create new bonds with others because she was finally free from the old ones. Lucy’s longing for independence is what was holding her back from creating an emotional rather than purely sexual relationship. We can also see this need for autonomy in her relationship with Paul. When describing a photo Paul gave her as a gift she says, “I was naked from the waist up; a piece of cloth, wrapped around me, covered me from the waist down. That was the moment he got the idea he possessed me in a certain way, and that was the moment I grew tired of him” (Kincaid 169). Again here she is showing that she does not want to feel like the possession of someone else. She felt that for so long with her mother back at home, and is trying too hard to escape this emotion. Because of this she does not want anyone to think of her as a possession. Not surprisingly, she keeps Paul around regardless of the fact that she has grown tired of him. She enjoys the pleasures he bring hers, and that is all she focuses on when in a relationship. Evidently, to Lucy, being attached to a man emotionally was the complete opposite of being free. And her main goal when she got to America was to be liberated.
Lucy’s need for independence ultimately carries on to her nonromantic relationships causing saddening results. Her intense fear of being controlled by her mother carries over to her relationship with Mariah. Her views on Mariah changed often, which is why she says, “The times that I loved Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother. The times that I did not love Mariah it was because she reminded me of my mother” (Kincaid 177). Lucy is so apprehensive that she is going to fall in to another unhealthy relationship with a motherly figure in her life. After everything that happened to her with her mother, it was hard for her to form a bond with Mariah, who happened to be a mother of four.
Ultimately Lucy quitting the job as Mariah’s au per is what she believes the last step to gaining full independence. Due to her lack of emotional connections with others, her life is not exactly how she imagined full freedom to be like. She says, “I was alone in the world. It was not a small accomplishment. I thought I would die doing it. I was not happy” (Kincaid 176). She has been through so much trying to become self-reliant because of her upbringing, this cause her to have no connection with anyone around her. Lucy was all alone in the world. Earlier in the novel Lucy stated that she believed just a “change in venue” would erase everything in life she despised, but that was not how life worked out for her. She could see her current self was taking the shape of her past (Kincaid 97). The book closes with Lucy writing in a diary that Mariah gave her. She picks it up and writes “I wish I could love someone so much that I would die from it”, and then began to cry (Kincaid 178). These being the final lines in the novel shows the reader the isolation and sadness she feels regardless of all the goals she achieved. By the end of the novel we can see how much Lucy really needs human connection and love.
Throughout the novel we watch Lucy try to gain complete independence from her mother, and from her upbringing back home. Her desire for freedom negatively affects her ability to form emotional connections with the people around her. We see this negatively impact her life, and bring her to a full circle of emotions, leaving home to find happiness and freedom, but still feeling helpless and in despair. She is unable to form a relationship that is not solely sexual with a man, and she cannot connect and bond with any women she meets. Ultimately, Lucy teaches the reader that it is important to make emotional connections with others around you, and pure independence and freedom from people may not always be the best thing in life.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. 1990.
Imperialism and Its Lingering Effects on the People of ‘a Small Place’
In A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid forces the reader to take on the role of a tourist as she brings them through the town of Antigua, criticising the moral ugliness of tourism and the negative consequences of European Imperialism as she does so. Through her description of the island’s infrastructure and the local’s daily struggles, Kincaid emphasises on the harm colonialism had brought about during its presence in Antigua and the lingering effect it still holds over the nation and its people. While the colonial rulers are long gone, they left behind a political culture of moral corruptness that has caused the country to remain stagnant in its development. By writing in second person, she describes her town from the reader’s point of view, beginning her work with “[i]f you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you would see” (3), and in doing so, implicates the reader in the crime of supporting imperialism, directly accusing them of taking part in the colonialism that has robbed her nation of its history and culture.
Kincaid’s description of her town hints at the deep-rooted corruption within the nation’s parliament – inherited from the colonial powers and their exploitation of the island and its people. Kincaid criticises the British for “getting rich [from] the free and then undervalued labour” (9-10), and then leaving this morally unrighteousness aspect of their history out of records, crediting their economical growth to “the ingenuity of small shopkeepers in Sheffield and Yorkshire and Lancashire, or wherever” (10) instead. A British education from the local “Pigott’s School” (7) – an establishment with a British name – with British books that teach the students British history, language and culture but leave out the details of its exploitation of places like Antigua not only strips the citizens of their own identity but also accustoms them to their suppressed and exploited status.
Similarly, the British’s promise of education, progress, and better living standards through colonialism and their actual underlying goal of financial exploitation is reflected in the action of present day Antiguan ministers, who use their position of power to line their own pockets instead of improving the lives of their people. Corruption and moral degeneration exist in every aspect of daily life, and is acknowledged by the people with a general sense of acceptance and lack of outrage. By asking the reader to ignore the “slightly funny feeling [they] get from time to time about exploitation” (10) because “[they] could ruin [their] holiday” (10), Kincaid shows how the daily suffering and hardship faced by the locals are unimportant and ignorable in the face of the tourist’s personal enjoyment – a reflection of the attitude of colonial powers.
Kincaid also criticises the government’s order of priorities through her description of the local infrastructure. She introduces this idea by making the reader question “why a Prime Minister would want an air-port named after him – why not a school, why not a hospital” (1), hinting at how making financial gains through tourism is viewed as more important than improving the quality of life for the locals. This topsy-turvy idea of importance is further developed later on, where the prime location in town is shown to be taken up by the “Government House… the Prime Minister’s Office and the Parliament Building” (10), while the spot with the most scenic view by the American Embassy. It is seen here that despite changes in times, a foreign power still holds more importance in Antigua. Meanwhile, while immigrant traders have the wealth to “lend money to the government” (11) and “build enormous, ugly, concrete buildings in Antigua’s capital” (11), the country’s school, hospital and library have been stagnant since Independence, and locals live in houses that are comparable to latrines. Similarly, the best road in the nation leads to the home of “the girlfriend of somebody very high up in the government” (12), while the second best was “paved for the Queen’s visit” (12). The embodiment of British imperialism is admired by the very same people it suppressed.
Overall, Kincaid illustrates the moral ugliness left behind by colonialism that continues to plague Antigua, criticising the deep-rooted selfish nature of colonial powers that leads to the disregard of local welfare in the face of their own financial growth. By forcing her readers to take on the role of an ignorant and irresponsible tourist directly, Kincaid allows her words to create an impact on a personal level, making her reader ponder over the effects of their actions over the inhabitants of previously colonised countries.
Culture and Identity in A Small Place
?From the point of view of a reader, it is clear that Jamaica Kincaid is not satisfied with the way Antigua is now. By comparing pre-colonial Antigua with colonial and post-colonial Antigua, Kincaid creates a novel that is anti-tourist and questions whether the island was better off in pre-colonial times or how it is now. In the first section of the novel, Kincaid describes to the reader the beauty of the island without going into the harsh way that the natives live their lives. She tells this part from the hypothetical view of a tourist, but eventually ends the section by discussing how much she dislikes tourists. The second section describes the old Antigua, while it was in the colonial possession of Great Britain. The third section finds Kincaid questioning whether times were better in the old days or how they are today. The fourth section closes out the book with a comparison of the ‘mixed blessing’ the people on the island are living with: they are surrounded by the immense beauty of a tropical island in the Caribbean, only to find themselves stricken with poverty and unsuitable living conditions. Kincaid’s point of view on culture and history reflect how many Caribbean and Antiguan people feel: that the living conditions they are faced with now are much different from how they used to be.
Kincaid’s view in A Small Place reflects a Caribbean perspective, which is one of disgust towards the Europeans. While they felt as if they were doing the natives a favor by coming in and teaching them their culture, Kincaid believes that the Europeans stripped many Caribbean’s of their culture, including the Antiguans. She believes that the culture of Antigua has been taken away from them, and other Caribbean islanders feel the same way about their land. The culture that they once had and the understanding of the native rituals of their island are long gone, having been replaced by the ideas of the Europeans.
In the first section, Kincaid starts off from the point of view of a tourist, and shows readers how they would view the island. “As you’re plane descends to land, you might say, what a beautiful island Antigua is.”  Kincaid shows from a tourists point of view that the island is extremely beautiful. However, within the beauty of the island is the true life of the natives that live there, and the poverty and poor living conditions that they are faced with. A native sees the island differently because they have to live there and they deal with it everyday, while a tourist comes in and sees the island for the first time. The tourist views the island as a paradise, a type of getaway from the regular troubles of their native land.
“Every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this. Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour. But some natives — most natives in the world — cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives; and they are too poor to live properly in the place where they live, which is the very place you, the tourist, want to go — so when the natives see you, the tourist, they envy you, they envy your ability to leave your own banality and boredom, they envy your ability to turn their own banality and boredom into a source of pleasure for yourself.” [18-19]
The reader is able to better understand how the natives life their lives and, from a cultural point of view, can see that the Caribbean way of living is disrespectful of their culture. They live in poverty and their culture has been stripped from them, and they are now forced to live in a world where European influence has taken over.
The second section sees Kincaid going back to the old Antigua, during the colonial possession. She briefly remembers the unquestioning obedience of Antigua to England and their culture. From a cultural point of view, we now see how England stripped Antiguans of their culture and their morals, being able to ‘mold’ them, in a sense, into the people they wanted them to be. This was often the case for many Caribbean countries once they were colonized.
“Do you ever try to understand why people like me cannot get over the past, cannot forgive and cannot forget? There is the Barclay’s Bank. The Barclay brothers are dead. The human beings they traded, the human beings who to them were only commodities, are dead. . . . So do you see the queer thing about people like me? Sometimes we hold your retribution.”
Kincaid accuses the British colonial system of trading humans and turning them into another item instead of an actual human being. Kincaid can’t ‘forgive and forget’ because there is no way to neither forgive nor forget how slavery affected people.
In the third section, Kincaid questions whether things were better in the old days or how they are now. She uses the library as an example of this:
“If you could hear the sound of [the old library’s] quietness . . . , the smell of the sea . . . , the heat of the sun . . . , the beauty of us sitting there like communicants at an altar . . . , the fairy tale of how we met you, your right to do the things you did . . . you would see why my heart would break at the dung heap that now passes for a library in Antigua.”
The library used to be a majestic place where people would enjoy spending their time. However, it is now temporarily located above a dry goods store, while it is awaiting repairs. Members of the Mill Reef Club have funds to help restore the library, but they will only give money if it is completely rebuilt. Kincaid believes that this has more to do with trying to remember the colonial regime than trying to actually help.
In the last section, Kincaid says that the beauty of the island is a ‘mixed blessing’ to the natives, who are surrounded by beauty but trapped in poverty.
“It is as if, then, the beauty—the beauty of the sea, the land, the air, the trees, the market, the people, the sounds they make—were a prison, and as if everything and everybody inside it were locked in and everything and everybody that is not inside it were locked out. And what might it do to ordinary people to live in this way every day? What might it do to them to live in such heightened, intense surroundings every day?”
Kincaid believes that the slaves who were brought to the island were victims and considered them honorable, but their descendants and the people who live in Antigua today are merely simple human beings. Europeans believed that colonizing these countries would give them a sense of hope and open them up to new cultures. However, Kincaid believes that the culture of Antigua was stripped from them with the arrival of the English. From a cultural and historical point of view, the Antiguans culture and sense of history was taken from them. The natives live in a beautiful country but are faced with poverty everyday. From an outsiders point of view, the country is beautiful. However, from someone who is a native to the island, it is a place without culture or beauty.