What does the narrative of girlhood/womanhood that Kincaid constructs in the story "Girl" tell us about gender relations?

The narrative of girlhood/womanhood that Kincaid constructs in "Girl" tells us that females in the community, represented by the speaker and the girl to whom she speaks, are valued primarily for their ability to fulfill the role of domestic servant and caretaker for men as well as for their sexual chastity or fidelity in marriage.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The narrative of girlhood and womanhood presented in Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl" shows how, for the speakers' community, women are expected to handle all domestic duties, including serving the men, and to maintain reputations for being virtuous, morally upright, and proper. The "girl" of the title is instructed on how to iron her father's clothes, how to act toward men, how to keep the house swept and the dinner made, how to care for children, and, perhaps most strikingly, how to avoid either becoming a "slut" or how to prevent men from realizing that she is a "slut."

It seems, then, that women and girls are supposed to be subservient to men—if not in actuality then at least in appearance—and that they have something of an obligation to at least appear to be either sexually chaste (before marriage) or sexually faithful (to a husband). The woman who speaks most of the time, the older woman in a position of some authority on these matters, actually uses the word "slut" three times in this very short text, emphasizing just how important this aspect of girlhood/womanhood is: a female who engages in sexual activity outside of marriage is undesirable in every way, so much so that the baker might not even let her "near the bread" in his store. This shows that women are valued not only based on their ability to fulfill the domestic servant role but also for their virginity and sexual virtue.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team