What I Have Been Doing Lately by Jamaica Kincaid

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How is "What I Have Been Doing Lately" a story?

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Megan Miller eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Although it is a bit abstract, Jamaica Kincaid's "What I Have Been Doing Lately" is still a story.

To understand this, first let's think about what a story is. How do you define a story? What elements do authors use in telling a story? The Oxford English Dictionary defines "story" as

an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.

Kincaid's writing fits this definition, as the imaginary narrator gives an account of what she's been doing.

Common elements of a story are characters, setting, and plot. Let's examine how the text contains these elements.

"What I Have Been Doing Lately" is written in the first person point of view. While the narrator is unnamed, she is a character who acts, thinks, and speaks. She talks to a monkey, remembers her mother, and encounters another character. This woman seems to know the narrator.

The action begins in the narrator's bed and soon moves outside. While the place is not identified through name or landmarks, the author develops the setting. She describes the sky, the path, and how these change during the action.

Although it is abstract, there is a plot. The narrator goes on a journey and makes active choices.

This short, surrealist narrative is indeed a story.

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epollock | Student


What makes the story a story is the narrative element and the central interest provided by the narrator. Certainly there is no conventional character development or change. There is also little if any plot development because there are no clearly established characters and no conflict. There is no question that the story is different from most of those we encounter. It is this very nature that makes the story unique in its approach to the present and living outside of that box if we have to deal with change and uncertainty on  daily basis and make adjustments for those changes constantly. This story can definitely be used at the beginning of a class to wake a reader up to their life's possibilities.

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