What point is Jamaica Kincaid trying to get across in the story "Girl"?
Jamaica Kincaid's short story "Girl" is set up as a list of tasks and expectations for young girls growing up to be women. Kincaid lists all of these tasks in one long paragraph, having the unidentified speaker deliver the information in command form ("Wash the white clothes on Monday...") in most cases. The speaker also tells the "girl" how to complete certain tasks correctly, as when the speaker says, "this is how you smile to someone you like completely" or "this is how you set a table for tea."
The speaker in "Girl" also criticizes the "girl" and seems to expect her to misbehave or do certain things in an inappropriate or improper manner. This is seen when the speaker says to the girl, "on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming." This line reveals that the speaker is concerned that the girl will disobey or act in a way that will be seen as inappropriate for women in her society. If the girl were to act outside of accepted behavior or conventions, she would be judged harshly. Here, the speaker seems to have internalized the gender norms of the culture as the speaker assumes the girl will, if left to her own devices, misbehave.
In the story, there are a few examples of italicized text ("but what if the baker won't let me feel the bread?). This italicized text seems to represent times when the girl rebuts what the speaker is telling her or defends herself against accusations that she may misbehave or has done so in the past. However, it's noteworthy that there are relatively few of these italicized portions and the commanding voice of the speaker dominates the story. The speaker's word is law, so to speak, and there is not much the girl can do to work against it.
In the story "Girl," Kincaid emphasizes the weight of expectations on women in her culture, from household tasks they are supposed to complete to the ways they are supposed to behave in relationships to maintain their own propriety and reputations.
Jamaica Kincaid’s short story “Girl” is told through a list form that blends dialogue with instructions. Although names are not used, we can deduce from the title and some of the instructions that it is most likely a mother speaking to her daughter. The story takes the form of a single sentence that is strung together by semicolons, with each semicolon separating one instruction from the next.
Despite the story’s brevity, this long sentence quickly becomes overwhelming, and this overwhelming nature is exactly the point of Kincaid’s story. “Girl” reveals the challenges of being a woman in a patriarchal society. It is so challenging, in fact, that even female-female relationships are unfortunately organized around criticism instead of love.
The quantity and variety of instructions—as the girl is instructed how to sweep, how to sew, how to set a table for the different meals, and so on—reveals the role that gender plays in labor. The titular girl needs no name because she is the every-girl, and her gender shapes and limits her identity.
Unfortunately, we see that the speaker is oppressive instead of supportive, further reinforcing the power dynamics of patriarchy. The story uses something of a refrain, repeating variants of the line “The slut I know you are so bent on becoming.” The speaker turns the girl’s (potential) sexuality into a crime. Although we never see any behavior or suggestion of promiscuity, the speaker reduces her to a “slut” for no known reason. In this way, the speaker becomes another repressive instrument of patriarchy.