What are the literary devices in “Girl”?

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Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid takes the form of one long sentence comprised of a list of instructions and advice that a mother might give her daughter about how to be a proper girl and woman. Many of the clauses of this long sentence begin with imperatives, with command...

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Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid takes the form of one long sentence comprised of a list of instructions and advice that a mother might give her daughter about how to be a proper girl and woman. Many of the clauses of this long sentence begin with imperatives, with command verbs that tell the girl to do or not do something. Others are “this is how” clauses that indicate the mother or older woman showing the girl how to do something important (or sometimes not so important). Only a few times does the older woman indicate why the girl should or should not do something.

Some clauses present further commentary about the girl that is hardly complimentary, as in “on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming.” This gives us a glimpse of what this mother or older woman thinks of the girl to whom she is speaking.

Twice in the midst of this long list, the girl replies, and her words are in italics. The first time, she counters that she doesn't “sing benna on Sundays.” The second time she asks, “But what if the baker won't let me feel the bread?”

As we read, we get the feeling that some of the instructions or commands are symbolic. The idea of squeezing bread to determine its freshness, for instance, hints toward sexuality, especially when we take into account the older woman’s question about being the “kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread.”

Finally, the instructions and advice in this text are all symbolic on another level, for they represent the common life of a girl and woman, showing its limitations and struggles, its hardships and pretense, as well as the fine line between respectability and impropriety that women must walk.

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