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...
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