What is the background of the story "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Jamaica Kincaid’s story “Girl” was published in the New Yorker magazine in 1978.  Born in Antigua, Kincaid came to United States when she was seventeen to work as a nanny.  She cut herself off from her family because of a poor relationship with her mother; then, she changed her name. Many of her stories are based on her own personal history. 

The author stated that when she was writing this story all she could hear was her own mother’s voice.  Her mother’s teaching and advice were firmly embedded in her mind.  Most of the instructions in the story were those that her mother had interwoven into Kincaid’s personality. 

One afternoon, after reading an Elizabeth Bishop poem, "In the Waiting Room,'' Kincaid sat down and wrote the short story "Girl" in one sitting. As she tells it, she found her voice as a writer that afternoon…

Kincaid’s complicated relationship with her mother comes out in the mother-daughter dynamic in the story. Just as the voice of the mother in “Girl” resents and worries about her daughter becoming a woman, her mother seemed to become more oppressive and bitter toward Kincaid as she grew older.

Written with some aspects of poetry, the story is 650 words and one sentence. A mother tries to teach her daughter how to survive and what she is expected to do and be as an Antiguan woman.  At the same time, the mother criticizes her daughter for some poor judgment already used. Whatever it is it scares and worries the mother about the daughter’s character and future. The mother speaks, and the daughter listens.

This story concerns the experience of being young and female in a poor country, Antigua. There is no plot, no action, no character descriptions, and no names; yet, the story intrigues the reader. The intense relationship between a mother and daughter comes to life.  This is not the United States. This is a poor country where is education, career, or rights for women are uncommon.  The mother dominates the daughter and the story.

The advice covers housework, gardening, families, etiquette, and sexuality.  The advice will serve the girl well in the conventional world of her homeland.