Discuss the advice that the mother gives the daughter in "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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There is no relationship more important than a mother and daughter. For most women, this is a life-long, loving bond that both relish.  In “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, the adolescent daughter recalls all of the advice that her mother has given her. 

The author writes with a rhythmic quality stemming from the author's home of Antigua.  Her story is told in one long sentence with the bits of advice separated by semi-colons.  The guidance that is given comes from a life and ancestry of slavery and dominance.  There is a feminist attitude covertly given but this is only intended for self-preservation. 

The tone of the mother is bitter and angry.  She takes a tough love approach, insisting that the young girl follow her instructions to keep from living a life of promiscuity.  The mother already believes that the girl is at the brink of making hurtful decisions that would be devastating to her future.

The mother gives her advice in random thoughts.  This is called stream of consciousness in literary terms.  Without organization, the mother speaks as she thinks.

Her advice covers four basic areas of life, referring mostly to domestic life.  To the mother, this is where the woman belongs. Her instructions in the story are basic:

  • Cloth- How to wash clothes; how to iron clothes; how to sew buttons and hems; how to purchase material
  • Food-What to cook; how to cook; how to garden; what to grow; proper setting of the table; always squeeze the bread
  • Behavior-How to eat properly; how to walk; how to behave in church; how to clean and sweep; when to smile; taking care of the body; act like a girl; what medicine to take; how to catch a fish; how to spit and not let it fall back on you; how to make money go far; how to abort a baby
  • Men-Don’t waste time on certain kinds of boys; how to behave in front of men; how to bully a man; how a man bullies a woman; how to love a man.

Repeatedly the mother implies that the girl has already done some promiscuous things.  She accuses her three times:

…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…

The girl only speaks twice—to deny singing popular songs in church and to ask what if the baker does not let her feel the bread.  This quickly angers the mother because she thinks that the girl is implying that she has already done something that would make the baker refuse her. 

The mother’s approach points to the fact that the girl has already been sexually active or has given signs that she wants to be.  The mother tries to prepare her daughter  for all life experiences.


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