Jamaica Kincaid’s portrays a mother advising her daughter in how to become a woman. The short story “Girl” is a list of bits of seemingly random advice from the mother to her daughter. In the format of the story, it is one long sentence with the advice separated by semi-colons. Following the narrative literary device of stream of consciousness, the narrator presents her thoughts and feelings as they pass through her mind.
The mother covers several areas in her advice:
Clothes-Washing, ironing, buying cloth, and sewing button and hems
Cooking/cleaning- What to do with fish, planting okra, gardening, and how to sweep
Etiquette-Setting the table, how to eat, what not to do at church
Behavior-Do not squat when playing marbles, do not behave like a boy, when and how to smile, how to treat a man, how a man will treat the woman
The mother provides this practical and helpful information to have a satisfactory household of her own. Obviously, the mother has lived in abject poverty since she has to make and grow everything.
The theme of the story is found in the last line of the story:
Mother: always squeeze, bread to make sure it’s fresh;
Daughter: …but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?
Mother: …you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman the baker won’t let near the bread?
The mother interprets the potential refusal by the baker as a sign that the daughter has already done something that has given her a bad name. She may already be considered a slut.
The author uses the words “feel” and “squeeze” to turn the buying of the bread into a metaphor for sex. When the baker refuses to give the daughter the bread, which would be a sexual reprimand or rejection. From this seemingly innocent question, the mother bursts in to the angry tirade.
The mother’s emphasis on this theme shows how much she wants her daughter to realize that she is “not a boy,” and that she needs to act in a way that will win her respect from the community.