Stereotyping And Gender Issues In Girl By Jamaica Kincaid

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

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?”. 

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