Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Jamaica Kincaid’s unconventional one-sentence, bare-bones narrative is an initiation story about a girl’s coming-of-age set at the moment of separation between the age of innocence and the confusing, transforming entrance into adult experience. It is the story of a mother’s attempt to train her adolescent daughter to learn appropriate cultural customs and more important, the rules of social behavior, especially that of proper sexual conduct befitting a well-reared girl.
Although the story is specifically about a West Indian mother’s “gender grooming” her adolescent daughter for her impending female domestic role, it could be about any family, about any culture, and about any adolescent daughter’s relationship with her mother. Its imperatives, prohibitions, directives, interrogation, “how to’s” and accusation suggest the universality of mother-daughter relationships and the inevitability of tension. The girl’s age is not specified but appears to be between ten and fifteen because of the nature of the values that the mother is attempting to inculcate in her. By the end of the sketch, there is nothing but a series of imperatives, “how to’s” and accusation, prohibitions on doing the laundry, personal hygiene, sewing, proper table manners, setting the table, Sunday school conduct, gardening, house cleaning, entertainment, superstition, fishing, homeopathic medicine, abortion, love, and budgeting.
The first of ten sister...
(The entire section is 573 words.)
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