In the short story "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid, what are the literary elements that are used in this story?

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Jane Ames eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Though a mere two pages, "Girl" abounds with various literary techniques and devices. 

For instance, almost the entire story is a series of parallelisms. Authors create parallelisms by writing sentences close together which resemble one another in structure and content. Consider this passage from Kincaid's story:

this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely

The text glides from one set of parallelisms into another. The purpose of this is twofold. Creating lists of tasks or instructions with minor variations shows how much knowledge a mother needs to impart to her daughter, just how much it takes to evolve into the kind of woman your mother wants you to be. Aside from creating a sense of how very much there is to learn, the parallelisms also make disparate behaviors seem on par with one another. Sweeping is just as important as how to smile at someone, or iron a shirt, or wash yourself every day. Rather than prioritizing all these tasks and behaviors, the short story trudges onward, giving all the wisdom within equal billing. This conveys that the real point of the mother's lecturing and the story itself is not the specific advice it offers, but that the girl needs to learn and grow under the tutelage of her mother; that all of her mother's advice will help to nurture her into the kind of woman she needs to be.

This text is also packed with metaphors. Some of the directions from the mother to the girl in the story are truly as straightforward as household chores and personal hygiene. Others carry potent metaphorical lessons. For instance, the speaker of the story says: "don’t throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all". Here, the wisdom the mother imparts to the daughter is not simply to not throw stones at birds. She implies it is best not to initiate anything you cannot bear the consequences of, and not to make rushed judgments about your perceptions, because they may not be what you thought "at all."

The story also ends with a powerful metaphor. The mother strongly questions the daughter by asking "you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?" Note the mother's choice of words. She wants her daughter to grow into the "kind of woman "the baker does let near the bread. What does this mean? The mother wants her daughter to be knowledgeable, brisk, trustworthy, and forthcoming; the kind of woman who blazes her own path in the world and gets things done. These goals for instilling enduring personal traits in her daughter is epitomized by that metaphor, to be "the kind of woman" who the baker lets near the bread. 

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Literary elements, a category of literary devices, are the potentially universal parts of all fiction. These are plot, narrator, setting, point-of-view, conflict, theme. the literary work Girl deviates from this universality in some ways. Literary techniques, the other category of literary devices, are such as tone, mood, diction, language, idiom, metaphor, simile, etc.

Girl has no plot that is being told and so there is also no narrator. A narrator, by definition tells something that is happening or has happened or may happen. Girl is a string of present-moment instructions and comments (e.g., "set a table for tea," "I have warned you against," etc.). The point-of-view would be that of the speaker who is the "I" in the monologue. The one being addressed is the "you" of the monologue. Since there is no plot, there is no conflict. The theme is how a girl should live, work and grow up to be productive, effective, moral (not a "slut") and economical.

The setting appears to be the environs of speaker's home where she gives instruction in things like cooking fritters. The locale is indicated by things like food, such as pumpkin fritters and pepper pot, which indicate a Caribbean vicinity. Laundry is done by hand and hung out to dry indicating a time period when the poor had no electricity. A low income area is indicated by the fact that laundry is done by hand and the speaker talks of making ends meet.

[For more detail, see the eNotes links below, especially the link to "Style." Also, for more information on Literary Devices, see Mr. Jay Braiman's Literary Devices glossary and Dr. Kip Wheeler's Literary Terms and Devices glossary.]