What is the theme of the story? What do you think the author is saying about tradition and gender in "Girl"?

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"Girl" is a short story written in the second person that focuses on motherly advice spoken to a young girl. The advice ranges from what to wear to how to act. While there are many themes in "Girl," one major message is about reputation, illuminated in the final lines of the text.

Throughout the piece, the mother focuses on what to do and how to do it, ranging from washing clothes to cooking, but the motif of sexuality and how one is perceived is repeated throughout. The mother tells her daughter to eat food in a way that "won't turn someone else's stomach," to "walk like a lady," and how to smile at people you like and dislike. The repeated phrase about her daughter being a "slut" accompanies these direct guidelines implying that if this advice isn't followed, the girl will be or perceived to be a "slut."

While the list of do's and don'ts continues, the concept of reputation is reinforced at the end of the piece when the daughter asks about the baker letting her near the bread. The last lines of the piece are from the mother, stating,

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?

From this line, it's clear that the entire list is one of protection and that if followed, a young girl will not get into any trouble and have her stellar reputation precede her. It seems the ultimate goal of the mother is to teach her daughter how to stay in line.

This thematic idea of reputation connects to the gender roles and traditions embedded in the story. It's clear a woman's place is tending to all the needs of the home the mother lists, on top of ensuring that a woman is looked at as a pure and obedient being. Especially nearing the end of the piece, we see this lack of autonomy as the mother talks about how to deal with male bullying and how to please the one you love in a way that's acceptable.

Not once does the story ever focus on the girl's happiness or needs which, in turn, speaks to the concept of reputation, conforming to gender roles, and upholding cultural tradition.

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