First published in the June 26, 1978, issue of The New Yorker, "Girl" was the first of what would become more than a dozen short stories Jamaica Kincaid published in that magazine. Five years later, "Girl" appeared as the opening story in Kincaid's collection of stories, At the Bottom of the River (1983), her first book.
"Girl" is a one-sentence, 650-word dialogue between a mother and daughter. The mother does most of the talking; she delivers a long series of instructions and warnings to the daughter, who twice responds but whose responses go unnoticed by the mother. There is no introduction of the characters, no action, and no description of setting. The mother's voice simply begins speaking, "Wash the white clothes on Monday," and continues through to the end. Like all of Kincaid's fiction, "Girl" is based on Kincaid's own life and her relationship with her mother. Although the setting is not specified in the story, Kincaid has revealed in interviews that it takes place in Antigua, her island birthplace.
When At the Bottom of the River was reviewed in major publications, reviewers praised the rhythm and beauty of the language and found the mother-daughter relationship fascinating, especially as it changes and develops throughout the volume. But a few, including the novelist Anne Tyler, found them too opaque. Tyler called the stories "almost insultingly obscure,’’ but still encouraged readers to read the volume and to follow the career of ‘‘a writer who will soon, I firmly believe, put those magical tools of hers to work on something more solid.’’