What is a central idea or concept in the book Girl by Jamaica Kincaid?

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sagetrieb's profile pic

sagetrieb | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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“Girl” is referred to as a short story by some critics and as a poem by others.  It is useful to read it in conjunction with Kincaid’s Annie John, which also depicts an uncaring mother bullying her daughter by treating her as a servant and insulting her. However, there might be another aspect to the mother’s behavior.   According to one critic, in “Girl” Kincaid “shows love and family togetherness by creating images of Western Caribbean familial practices that constitute a string of images that are the cultural practices and moral principles that a Caribbean woman is passing along to her young daughter. Jamaica Kincaid has taken common advice that daughters are constantly hearing from their mothers and tied them into a series of commands that a mother uses to prevent her daughter from turning into “the slut that she is so bent on becoming.” More than commands, the phrases are a mother’s way of insuring that her daughter has the tools that she needs to survive as an adult. The fact that the mother takes the time to train the daughter in the proper ways for a lady to act in their culture is indicative of their familial love; the fact that there are so many rules and moral principles that are being passed to the daughter indicates that mother and daughter spend a lot of time together. The reader gets the impression that the advice that the mother gives her daughter has been passed down from many generations.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The central theme is the idea of what it truly means to be a woman in all of her manifestations:  wife, mother, daughter.  The "self" is neglible as defined by the mother, and is seemingly only made relavant by a woman's role in relation to others.   The daughter, however, cannot accept such a narrow existence and struggles to define her own meaning of womanhood in a culture that is torn between the traditional expectations of a woman's "place" and her new reality of an integrated world. 


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