How does Kincaid use humor to indicate conflict in “Girl”?

The opening narrative paragraph, in which the mother begins her litany of instructions to her daughter, is written as a stream of consciousness that progresses chaotically from one subject to another. The tone is harsh and aggressive.

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This story by Jamaica Kincaid, published in The New Yorker in 1978, consists mainly of a monologue from mother to daughter (presumably), though the daughter does respond twice to her mother's litany of admonitions.

The admonitions are a stream of consciousness of what to do and what not to do; the overall lack of organization of the thoughts and the unnecessarily rough language do add elements of humor. The mother clearly wants her daughter to both acquire life skills that a woman needs to navigate the world successfully and maintain a reputation as a proper woman; this is humorously obvious when she intersperses her instructions with multiple warnings to avoid being "the slut I have warned you against becoming." There are gentler ways to make the same point, but the mother's blunt language could be read as creating humor.

The daughter's interjection, "but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?" is answered in a harsh yet humorous way when her mother demands to know, "you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?" It is the mother's way of trying to instill confidence and agency into her daughter, and the words she chooses are challenging. The daughter will have to be tough to live up to her mother's expectations.

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First, it is important to identify the conflict in Jamaica Kincaid's essay-monologue, "Girl." The monologue is written from the perspective of a mother and is addressed to her young daughter.

The tone of the monologue is meant to be austere, because it is a lecture. However, Kincaid uses humor to show the awkwardness of the mother discussing the topic of sex, which is a theme that dominates the monologue. Therefore, the conflict is a clash of generational principles. The mother represents conservative values from her generation.

The young daughter represents the newer generation, which, according to the mother's opinion, is prone to promiscuity. However, when the narrator tries to articulate the topic of sex and becoming a proper, respectable woman, she uses euphemisms to offset the awkwardness of discussing such topics with a young daughter. This is one of the comedic effects of Kincaid's chosen style of narration. The humor also shows the intimate but complex dynamics between a parent and a child.

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