Girl’s Expectations In Girl By Jamaica Kincaid
Antiguan immigrant and critically acclaimed author Jamaica Kincaid once spoke about her upbringing in an interview; “You grow up in a street and it’s a tiny street . . . but it becomes your world, and it’s the only thing you know . . . and you have no interest in anything else. It would not occur to you that there might be something else.” (Richardson). Just as Kincaid speaks about her childhood in the British colony of Antigua, she writes fervently about the adolescence of an unnamed girl growing up in an Antiguan household in her prose-poem Girl. Girl visits the same mood of Kincaid’s isolated upbringing, holding the attention of the reader by telling about the relationship between a mother and her daughter, provoking the reader into the analytic mindset of subverted expectations about the conformity and discipline expected of young women. The genius of Girl lies in its simplicity- eloquently telling the story of a girl coming of age, with the only drive to its non-chronological plot being a one-sided conversation between mother and daughter which contains mountains of the mother’s forecasted advice. The narrator’s identity within Girl’s stifling voice speaks to the harshness of domiciliary expectation for women, framing a narrative of anxiety, accusation, and conformity for women growing up to become domestic housewives. Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl uses its unique point of view to strengthen its theme of expectations for women in the domestic sphere.
Throughout the mother’s stream of directions, an image forms within the reader’s mind of a young girl old enough to need to be told to “soak your little cloths”, but still with the youthful desire to play marbles (Kincaid). Here, Kincaid lays the image of a child growing up, relaying all she’s heard throughout her adolescence. The use of such a young girl as the narrator is a deliberate choice by Kincaid to relay the imbalance of power between the narrator and the mother’s omnipresent stream of orders. There is no ability for such an inexperienced girl to refute the authority of the mother, lending credence to Jamaica Kincaid’s recurring theme of unfairness and imbalance in the expectation laid upon her. The simple fact that such a young and innocent girl is being subjected to a stream of orders, insults, and instructions by an overbearing and sometimes spiteful mother is necessary to the strength of Kincaid’s theme.
Secondly to the argument of the narrator visualizing Kincaid’s theme is the fact that the narrator only interrupts her mother twice to defend herself, stating meekly in response to her mother’s ramblings, “but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school” and “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?” The girl’s defenses are so meek and soft in comparison to her mother’s authoritative voice. At the first interjection, the mother steamrolls the daughter with ignorance. In the second, she gets angry and shouts “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?” The reasonable nature of the simply curious interjection coupled with the out-of-balance response of unrighteous anger points to a dangerous aspect of the mother expecting her daughter to kowtow to her whims and wrath. The mother’s unstated expectation for her daughter to listen submissively as she teaches her how to run a household is Kincaid’s way of teaching the audience about the adolescence of a growing female, using the narrator’s identity to feed into her theme of the expectations of women within the domestic household.
Lastly, the theme is expanded upon by Kincaid’s usage of negative commands. The mother’s oppressive voice tells the daughter not to do something thirteen times throughout the prose poem. In Girl, the mother says to her daughter, “don’t sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys, not even to give directions; don’t eat fruits on the street” (Kincaid). By telling the narrator what she cannot do rather than what she can, Girl is making a statement about the limitations placed on women. By confining the actions of the young girl to household chores and limiting other expressions of self, such as singing benna or speaking to certain groups, the scope of what the girl is allowed to do becomes clearer. These expectations are arbitrarily assigned by the mother to the narrator, whose silence indicates annoyance or indifference, and the author gives the reader the indication that it isn’t because the narrator doesn’t care, but because she doesn’t understand. As the author, Reem Ahmad Rabea states, “The girl finds herself speechless and crippled by the mother’s demanding and commanding voice. The mother’s demands hail on the girl like a hammer. This cacophonic tone conceived by using the sound “d” several times highlights the extent to which the girl is not only overwhelmed but also annoyed and frustrated by the mother’s attitude. It also establishes the emotional state of the mother as well as her superior position.” (Rabea). The little girl being told that she cannot do something strengthens the theme about the expectations for women within the domestic household. The little girl’s innocence as a narrator brings this theme into the forefront as her mother outspeaks her, telling her what she cannot do, and limits her ability and autonomy as a person.
The little girl’s innocence as a narrator brings the theme of the expectations she is placed under to the forefront as her mother outspeaks her at every turn and tells her what she cannot do.
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