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

In "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid, the syntax of the story serves to create a sense of the breathless, constant talk about the mother. The reader endures the syntax in the same way the daughter endures the mother's talk. In that sense, the syntax conveys both the many things one needs to know to be a woman and the emotional and physical exhaustion such rules entail.

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The syntax in the story creates the effect of making the reader share in the daughter's experience of being "instructed"—or harangued—by her mother. The story, written as a single run-on sentence, mirrors the kind of breathless talk the daughter must endure from her mother. It is a kind of stream-of-consciousness in which there is hardly room for the daughter's italicized interjections. By the end of the story, we feel the same exhaustion as the daughter.

The accumulation of clause after clause also goes to show how many things the daughter has to learn to become a woman, and the degree to which being a woman means living a life consumed by the endless work of cooking, cleaning, planting, and sewing, and the countless rules around how to behave in public. For the mother, any woman who deviates from these rules is a "slut," and she interprets her daughter's shortcomings as evidence of her desire to become a "slut."

At the same time, the lack of detail in these clauses—the mother will say things like, "This is how to sew a button" but there is no explanation beyond that—might suggest that the daughter is not paying attention to the details, only the overall emotional content of the talk, which is, to say the least, mixed. Women are not to be "sluts," but the mother's lessons include things like how to smile at a man you like and how to make a medicine to abort an unwanted pregnancy. The haphazard syntax of the sentence does not privilege one kind of knowledge over the other; all are equally important to being a woman.

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The syntactical structure of the short story "Girl" is one of its most striking features. It's a challenging story to read because it is one large paragraph. Typically, we would discourage writing such as this, because its density can make it difficult to tease out the content; however, Kincaid is aware of this and does so purposely.

The effect is that the reader feels as overwhelmed as the girl being spoken to her by her mother. The girl is given a literal laundry list (the first set of directives is about how to wash the clothes), and hidden among the mundane tasks is a tone of genuine concern and love for the girl. The dense syntax makes it evident that the girl's mother wants to impart as much knowledge to her daughter as possible, because she recognizes her time to make an influence on her is short. We can also assume the mother has her own laundry list of tasks to accomplish and so doesn't have the time to have a true heart-to-heart with her daughter.

The stylistic choice to have the girl's interjections appear as mere italics within this list of directives—rather than the traditional form of separate paragraphs with quotations—is further indication that talking to her daughter is just one part of the woman's list of tasks for the day.

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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).

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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.

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