Jamaica Kincaid’s Seeing England For The First Time; A Study On The Symbolic Use Of Clothing

June 7, 2021 by Essay Writer

In Jamaica Kincaid’s nonfiction story, On Seeing England for the First Time, it is about Jamaica’s experience in Antigua when everything was representative of England and how glorious of a place it is. However Jamaica saw the real side of England when she went and it wasn’t as grand as it was made out to be. In her story, she described that the majority of things made in England helped to prove the point of social status and if a family had wealth. She focused mainly clothing and fashion being a symbol of power. People usually view clothing to be a symbol of sex or seduction as well as a symbol of personality however in this it is symbolized to be a sign of power and wealth .

Kincaid describes England as a jewel, a jewel that only English people could wear. Kincaid’s father would wear a felt hat and clothes made from England. She describes the reason why her father wears the hat by saying, “My father must have seen and admired a picture of an Englishman wearing such a hat in England, and this picture that he saw must have been so compelling that it caused him to wear the wrong hat for a hot climate most of his long life” (Kincaid 366). In this quote it describes how her father wanted to fit in by buying this hat. By owning this hat for him it symbolized being English and acting like someone from England. Her father realized that even though this hat wasn’t suitable for what he did for work it still showed he could afford clothing from England. To Kincaid’s father this embodied wealth and she continues on to describe how that hat was always on his head as if it was his prized possession.

Before Kincaid wrote her story about England, people would view fashion as a form of trickery and seduction. An article called “Material Fictions of Desire,” talks about various authors who symbolize women’s clothing as symbols of desire or sex. In one of the sentences in the essay it mentions how English people think about clothing. It says, “For not only where elite English women viewed as agents of disguise because of their love of clothes they were also seen as essentially flawed creatures who tricked men into loving them —and worse marrying them—through dissimulation and deceit” (Emberley 471). This basically described how women would wear promiscuous clothing in order to attract a male’s eyes. Through this it seemed like clothing was the only way to get men to like them. However as time went on, clothing transitioned from being something that was seen as promiscuous to something that signified money and power. For example in Kincaid’s story, she talked about how at a store they were selling clothing with the crest of the Prince of Wales. She said “I said, my husband and I hate princes, my husband would never wear anything that had a prince’s anything on it. My friend stiffened. The salesman stiffened” (Kincaid 372). This quote displayed the importance of a prince’s crest mainly because one of the friends said that having something from the Prince showed her Englishness. By wearing something that displayed power, it made the people wearing the clothing look like they came from the upper class.

Clothing to Kincaid, while symbolizing power, also symbolized a sense of confidence and beauty. Kincaid described the women of England’s clothing as, “They were special, everything about them said so, even their clothes; their clothes rustled, swished and soothed” (Kincaid 369). She described the clothing as if the clothes made the women perfect. She related it to her dresses and said they didn’t do what the women of England’s dresses would do. She tied it in later in the story as well by saying how the women mainly used their clothes and beauty to disgrace themselves and win over the men. Kincaid seemed to feel lesser compared to these women by describing how her clothes couldn’t compare. By having cheaply made dresses, she felt lesser to the women because she felt as though they had more of the world then she did. She described it by saying the women could wear their dresses in public where as her weren’t as nicely made so she looked ratty because of the many washes her clothes had endured.

From the same article called “Materials of Desire”, the author says, “My argument rests on the assumption that a materialist history and a corporeal feminist theory of women’s oppression in the twentieth century must focus on a range of practices, knowledges, and representations that develop desire for things at the expense of a desire for social change and meaningful social relations” (Emberley 467). Overall this quote sums up the message of how people tend to oppress women based on materialistic items. This quote ties into the fashion is power because while women do try to impress people with clothes in order to get higher up on the ranking, men tend to feel they need to be oppressed because of the fashion.

The idea of fashion symbolizing power relates to Kincaid’s story in its entirety. People were influenced by the idea that clothes not made in England were worn by lesser people. Throughout the story it depicted the people who Kincaid admired for their clothing choices as well as criticized those who didn’t wear nice clothes. Overall even in today’s society, people still view clothing as a sign of wealth. By wearing high end or expensive clothing people are looked highly upon because they have wealth or show signs of wealth. Overall this story and idea of how fashion symbolizes power is current even in today’s time.

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