“Girl’’ is a short story written by Jamaica Kincaid, originally published in the New Yorker magazine in 1978. The story was in the author first book, At the Bottom of the River (1984), which included a collection of many other short stories.
“Girl’’ is a story about a relationship between a young teenager girl and her mother in St Johns, Antigua, in the West Indies. The teenager represents Jamaica Kincaid and her mother when she was growing up in her home town Antigua which was ruled by the British colony. During the colonization, the British were likely to buy “slaves” from Africa and other places to gather crops of sugar cane and tobacco. People of Antigua struggle between their culture and the British one. However, African culture was important in people’s lives even though another culture was imposed and taugh to them.
So it was confusing for the young generation like Kincaid to understand and apply this mixture of culture depending on where or when they find their self into.
In the story, the mother gives instructions to her daughter on how to be a respectful and perfect woman in society. During the instructions, the mother assigns a to-do and how-to-do list of practical and helpful guidance that will help her daughter be perfect when she is on her own one day. She tells her daughter how to do household chores such as sewing, cooking, ironing, table setting, laundry, sweeping and washing. She also tells her daughter how to talk to people she likes or doesn’t and how men and women behave to each other and what might come out from their relationship.
However, the mother advises are sometimes sarcastic and sharp, when implying that her daughter is most likely on the path to becoming a” slut” if the girl turn her back on the advises. For instance, the mother says, “this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming”. Also, “This is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming”. She tells the girl not to sing ‘’ benna” which is Afro-Caribbean music on Sunday school, and not to speak to “wharf-rat” boys.
“This is how”, “Don’t”, “Always” are used by the mother in the entire story, tells how she emphasizes and imposes these behaviors on her daughter who is forced within these instructions. This shows the mother’s dominant character toward her daughter who never interrupted her mother or get grounded if trying to. This is clear that the mother is trying to impose her own background and culture on her daughter on how to live a fulfilling life. “Girl” draws the attention on how most cultural characteristics are pass on to the next generations. The mother is probably passing on what she learned from her past to her daughter to be the “real” and “perfect” woman that she considers be or would have been.
In the story “Girl”, Kincaid who represents the preadolescent daughter listens to her mother, the main speaker in the story. The mother is the one talking; almost all the words used are the mothers. Kincaid in “Girl” is remembering and talking about all of the advice that her mother taught her as her young age. In the story, the mother who represents the narrator is dispensing a list of practical advice on how to behave like respectful lady in public and home. The daughter seems obligated and powerless facing her mom. Whenever she is trying to say something, the mother uses her influence to reject the daughter expectation.
The tone used in the story “Girl” goes on two different sides. First, the mother’s tone is very hashed and bossy at first. For instance, she says “be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit”, “wash your white clothes on Monday and put them in the stone heap”, “wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry”. The mother gives orders and do not wait for her daughter to ask questions. The mother does not care about her daughter feelings and thinking.
More, she is referring her daughter as a “slut” while giving her instructions, even though, there is no indications that her daughter will become one. All reasons are irrelevant for the mother in the story, the main expectation for the mother is for daughter to listen and apply. More examples are “don’t sing benna on Sunday school”. Nothing is said after that, she does not explain why. The voice is stern, no backtalk. Considering Kincaid age, the mother should have at list give some reasons from her orders. Second, it’s Kincaid’s tone through girl that is expressed. The girl doesn’t speak much. She speak twice in the whole story.
The first time she speaks was to defend herself through her mother accusation. “I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school” facing her mother accusation. Girl also seems scared and insecure when she asks her mother “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread”. It seems that girl is questioning her mom’s behavior when she says, “always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh”, but she still has no choice than listen and be silent. There is no moment in the story where mother and daughter are laughing.
The mother believe that a woman must gain her reputation through domestic work. In “Girl” a woman seems to be another word for keeping the household clean, make sure all people in the house are very happy. The mother repeatedly focus attention on how to make food, increasing the belief that happiness come through domestic shores. The mother teaches her daughter how to make pumpkin fritters, tea, bread pudding, etc. She also brings the attention woman appearance will reveal her character and personality.
For example, she teaches the daughter how to wash clothes, sewing and iron them. Moreover, the mother forbids her daughter to play marbles by swatting like a boy. It seems like the mother do not want her daughter to have any social life. The story reveals that being feminine is hard in Kincaid society and tradition. Sexuality is also a big deal for girls. The mother tells her daughter “you mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys, not even give directions”, “on Sunday, try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming”.
The mother also forbids her daughter to sing “benna” on Sunday school, which will draw negative attention on her. “benna” and “Sunday school” are very opposite meaning. In the mother mind and culture, a girl can’t be singing an unchristian song and be seen at church. Again, the mother uses another symbol when she tells her daughter no to eat fruit on the street because flies will follow her. These statements show that the girl must show an exemplary attitude when outside in public. The daughter is in danger of becoming a “slut”, which her mother is worried about. Sexuality must be preserved in a girl and a woman life.
The short story “Girl” shows how a mother is concerned about the future of her daughter. The mother has a strong cultural background that she seems obligated to teach her daughter. She afraid that her daughter will not be a decent and respectful woman. Mother’s influence is very strong and powerful toward her daughter growing up in a society where a women are viewed as an instrument in the household.
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