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

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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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Discuss the advice the mother gives in "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid that teaches her daughter to behave appropriately. 

Jamaica Kincaid writes about her native Antigua. “Girl” recreates a scene between an adolescent, Caribbean girl and her mother who is worried about the daughter’s behavior. The narration is first person point of view with the mother serving as the narrator.  The narration is provided through a literary device called “stream of consciousness” which passes along the random thoughts and feelings of the narrator.

The story supplies a list of rules that the narrator's daughter should incorporate in her life. The mother accepts as true that a woman's reputation determines how she is treated in her surrounding. 

The mother believes that domestic knowledge will not only save her daughter from a life of promiscuity but will also endow her as a productive citizen. There is anger in the mother’s tone. Her frustration comes from the daughter’s inappropriate behavior and the worry that she will or even has done something that is illicit.

How does the mother teacher her daughter to behave like a proud Island woman?

The mother directs  the daughter about important aspects of an Antiguan girl’s life.  Believing that her daughter is already on the wrong path, she repeatedly suggests that the girl is promiscuous and may be on the way to becoming a “slut.” A girl has to be careful in her behavior. 

The mother offers useful advice in three areas: clothing, cooking, and behavior:

  • Clothing- specific instruction on how and when to wash clothes; how to sew a button on and a hem; how to iron clothes; and how to pick out cloth to sew her own clothes
  • Cooking-how to cook fritters; how to prepare and cook fish; how and where to plant a garden; how to set a table; how to eat; etiquette at meals; how to squeeze the bread
  • Behavior-do not act like a boy; do not sing inappropriate songs at church; do not speak to certain types of boys; how to smile; act to behave in front of men; what to do when a man bullies her; how to abort a child; how to love a man

The mother does not believe that the advice will make any difference.

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; be sure to wash every day…

Her fears for the girl actually bring up deeper anxieties of the perilous state of womanhood in this conventional Antiguan society.

The daughter only speaks twice in the story.  She denies singing calypso music during church.  The second time is when she asks a seemingly innocent question: “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?”

This enrages the mother because to her the daughter must have reason to believe that the baker would not let her touch the bread.  The mother tells the daughter that after all of the advice that she has given her she still is going to be a slut. 

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