Effect of the Elements of Dangerous Stories in Jamaica Kincaid’s Novel Girl and Recitatif by Toni Morrison
The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative, published in 2003, is in part an anecdote that recognizes the power behind creation stories. Perhaps more than that, it is also about the influence that stories hold and the dangers that tailgate what a story includes or omits, and how this configures the thoughts, actions and reactions of others. In his essay, King states “Stories are wonderous things. And they are dangerous”. The following composition recognizes the dangerous elements of storytelling and examines two examples of “dangerous stories”, in which the stories that the main characters tell themselves or are told by external voices are harmful.
The short stories Girl by Jamaica Kincaid and Recitatif by Toni Morrison examine the controlling effects of certain “dangerous” stories that the characters battle. Jamaica Kincaid’s short story Girl (1976) tells the story of a young girl who is learning her societal role and cultural expectations, under the guidance of an unidentified character, presumably a mother-figure. Kincaid avoids the use of proper punctuation throughout her piece, opting instead for semi-colons, and creating a continuous chain of commands and orders from the mother figure, directed towards the girl. The absence of punctuation throughout the short story generates the implication of a one sided-conversation, as the girl struggles to speak up, to question or to assert herself. The mother provides the girl with practical information, such as how to do various household chores, how to cook and offers relationship advice that will later be helpful when engaging in relationships with men. Reoccurring throughout the text she warns her daughter against “becoming a slut” and suggests that walking like a lady, ensuring that her dress is hemmed properly and behaving accordingly in the presence of men, will impede promiscuous behaviors. The narrative in Girl recounts the mother’s expectations of her daughter’s roles and duties within society in a dangerous fashion, that unfortunately is still the experience of so many women and girls today. The story that the mother tells her daughter does not allow her to aim as high as she possibly can, or to fulfill her greatest potential. Often, we believe the stories that people tell us about ourselves and themselves, and in this case the “bad story” that the mother constructs misrepresent her intentions and hopes for her daughter.
Dangerous stories can often be unconsciously constructed, consciously constructed, sometimes propagandistic, or have an ill intention, but most of the time, and in this case the dangerous story is constructed out of the mother’s hopes and wishes that the world will be kind to her daughter. Dismally, the story that the woman tells her daughter obstructs, diminishes and denies women’s success, projecting society’s ideas of what women can do and what women are capable of. When culture is telling us otherwise, it becomes challenging to reject the story that you’re not worth much. The dangerous narrative that Kincaid criticizes is still relevant in considerable ways. As a girl, from a young age, I was raised to please everyone. The dangerous story that I told myself was that “I need to be nice in order to be loved. ” That if I could make everyone around me happy, if I could give them what they want, that they would love me. For myself, learning how to let go of this narrative a little bit and sometimes disappoint people or to say no, have been authentic struggles. Once these deep dangerous stories are told and internalized, it is with difficulty and with great effort that the powerful revisions that we strive to create are actualized.
Conclusion- Although stories can indeed be threatening, a positive element of these dangerous stories is that they can be a driver, by which you can say, “These stories are untrue” and set out to change the stories that we recount today. We depict a story, and then we revise it after realizing that the story that we’ve told is incorrect. What’s assuring about life is that we’re constantly doing this. There will always be a layer of what is the deepest truth, that we are not consistently aware of at the time. Ultimately, we are all unreliable narrators, with radically subjective views of events that may be objectively true, but the way that we see them is with our hearts, not with our minds and sometimes not even with our eyes. Thomas King writes “. . . once a story is told, it cannot be called back. Once told, it is loose in the world. ” Part of the human struggle is that often there is no ill intention behind the stories we tell, but a beautiful intention that lets us in for danger unless we catch it in time.
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