Explore the idea of renunciation and self-sacrifice expected from women—for instance, implicit in the sentence "don't feel bad about giving up"—in Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The renunciation of the self that is expected of women in the community described in this text is implicit. The main speaker never tells the girl she speaks to that the girl is expected to be self-sacrificing: it is implied by the way the speaker addresses the girl, as well as by so many of the directives she offers. The main speaker rarely allows the girl to get a word in edgewise and barely acknowledges whatever the girl says to her, if at all. It is as though the narration nearly erases the girl's voice totally. Further, the main speaker shows the girl things like how to "iron [her] father's khaki shirt so that it doesn't have a crease," as well as how to "iron [her] father's khaki pants so that they don't have a crease." Instructions like these make it clear that the girl is there to serve the man in her life: as she is still young, this man is her father. Even directions regarding how to "smile to someone you don't like very much" and "how to smile to someone you don't like at all," show that, no matter what, girls are expected to smile and be courteous, even when they strongly dislike the other person. The girl's feelings toward the other person are relatively unimportant: she still has to smile, regardless.

When the main speaker instructs the girl on how to "love a man," she says, "and if this doesn't work there are other ways, and if they don't work don't feel too bad about giving up." This is notable because the speaker never describes the love the girl should expect from a man—what she ought to look for in terms of her own satisfaction, fulfillment, and even pleasure. This implies that her satisfaction, fulfillment, and pleasure are unimportant—not even worthy enough to be mentioned. Only the man's feelings are important here. This is another example of the self-sacrifice required by women in this society.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 6, 2019
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial