In "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid, how does she use syntax to create an effect?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Syntax refers to the way a sentence is put together. The typical sentence contains a subject and a predicate, and then perhaps, in addition, a direct or indirect object, some prepositions, some adjectives, and so on. Any deviation from the norm is going to draw attention to something in that sentence. For example, a sentence that lacks direct reference to a subject (which would actually not be a complete sentence, then) might draw attention to the predicate instead.

In "Girl," the speaker, presumably the girl's mother or a female authority figure, is issuing a long series of instructions on all manner of subjects that are necessary for this young girl to know. Rather than placing a period after all, or even some, of the independent clauses, the author chooses to string them all together with semicolons, creating one gigantic sentence, full of directions and orders.

Although semicolons are used to separate independent clauses that are strongly related, we typically don't connect more than two or three independent clauses in this way. Therefore, this is an unusual syntax choice that seems to emphasize just how much responsibility this young girl seems to have thrust upon her and how little agency she has to make her own decisions, as every moment of her day seems as though it will be filled with the tasks her mother outlines. Furthermore, the almost complete lack of the girl's own voice seems to imply that her identity and voice will, in fact, be stifled by her life as a girl (which the title seems to imply is the most important part of her identity).

beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Syntax is the study of the rules used to form accepted language. It includes the study and use of clauses, phrases, sentences structure, and the arrangement of words.

In “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid the reader experiences one long run-on sentence mostly spoken by a mother giving her daughter directions on how to live her life. The daughter is only allowed to interject or provide an answer a few times. Kincaid does this to make it clear that the mother is the authority figure in the situation and the daughter is subordinate.Most of the sentence is written in the imperative, explicitly tell the girl what to do and what not to do. The mother covers subjects from personal care, to home care, to growing food. Kincaid also makes use of repetition in the phrases that make up the instructions to her daughter. Again, these repetitions provide points of emphasis. When the daughter does answer a question her comments are over-ridden by the mother. Only at the very end, when the daughter questions if the baker will allow her to squeeze the bread, does the mother answer her with a question of her own. The question that she throws back at her daughter seems to say, “Have you been listening to what I have been saying?”

Kincaid breaks the accepted rules of syntax in the English language with the run-on sentence that gives the piece its lyrical quality that is found in the language of the West Indies.