Discuss the short story and the girl in "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid. 

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

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The rhythm of the Caribbean Island of Antigua eminates in the poetic prose of the unique short story, “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid. The author’s tone and mood for the story demonstrates the residual effects of the slavery and colonial takeover of her land. A mother’s advice for a life time springs out of the memory of the daughter. The story is one long sentence with the author using semi-colons to separate the different bits of information.

Believing that her daughter is on the cusp of womanhood, the mother feels that her daughter is already making poor decisions. The motherly advice exudes bitterness and anger. She believes that her daughter is destined to a life of promiscuity if she does not change and follow her mother’s instructions.

Essentially, the story is a list of rules for the daughter to place inside her value system.  The author uses stream of consciousness in giving the advice which is defined as a literary style that presents a character's continuous random flow of thoughts as they arise.

 Symbolically, the mother believes that happiness for a woman is found in domesticity. In between her guiding statements, she reprimands the behavior of her daughter that she has already observed.  Her advice can be placed in four categories: cloth, food, feminine behavior, and men. Here is one example from each area:

  •  Cloth- How to iron clothes and wash them
  • Food-Preparation and cooking of food
  • Behavior-Not to act like a boy and always wash the body everyday
  • Men-How to bully and love a man

Continuing on that theme, the girl is taught that the length of time she spends with men and how she behaves around men will affect how others perceive her. For example, the girl is instructed:

“...you mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys, not even to give directions” and ”don’t squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy.”

Repeatedly, the mother implies that the girl has already become promiscuous; however, the girl in one of her two statements in the story denies that she has done anything wrong.

“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 this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt…”

 In this final line of the story, the mother interprets the baker’s potential refusal to touch the bread as a sign that the daughter may be perceived as a slut. Kincaid uses the words “feel” and “squeeze” to turn the act of buying bread into a metaphor for sexuality, and the baker’s refusal to sell the bread is a sign of disgust of the girl’s behavior.The daughter’s innocent question about the bread turns into an aggressive ugly reaction by the mother.

The mother has taken a tough love approach toward the daughter and her future.  She possibly sees herself as a teenager in the behavior of the daughter. Certainly, the relationship at this point is more frustration than love. 


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