What's a good analysis of the short story “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid?  How could I create a good thesis statement for an essay based on this analysis?

The text contains a sexual double standard for men and women, as well as a strong message of women existing to serve men.

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A good thesis statement makes a claim that can be defended with textual evidence from the story. It is a statement of opinion with which someone could argue, if they wished to. Certainly, you could write a thesis that takes a position that many of the directions given to the...

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A good thesis statement makes a claim that can be defended with textual evidence from the story. It is a statement of opinion with which someone could argue, if they wished to. Certainly, you could write a thesis that takes a position that many of the directions given to the "girl" refer to other people and how she should treat and/or serve them. The main speaker says things like, "this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely," and it's notable that the girl is instructed on how to smile to someone she does not like at all. Often, we don't smile at people we do not like; yet this girl's behavior is so policed and prescribed, and the way she presents herself to others is so important, that she must remember even to smile at those she dislikes. Therefore, one thesis might say that this text conveys the idea that women exist for public consumption: that they live to serve others, especially men, and rarely (if at all) themselves.

Another thesis might tackle the emphasis on the policing female sexuality in the text. The main speaker tells the girl not to "sing benna in Sunday school" and accuses her of being "bent on becoming" a "slut." She is concerned that the girl might "be the kind of woman who the baker won't let near the bread." This idea that the girl could become sexually disreputable seems to be the speaker's most pressing concern, as it comes up numerous times in the piece; however, there is no mention of a similar concern regarding men's sexuality—the speaker only issues instructions about how to please a man sexually. Thus, the text conveys a sexual double standard for men and women; sex is about men's pleasure (not women's), and women who would seem to enjoy sex are considered to be sluts and are, thus, dishonored.
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Girl” is a short story written as one long sentence, a series of rules given from an authority figure – most likely a mother – to a girl at a transitional age about how to be a proper lady.  The girl interjects only twice, and is both times dismissed.  There are a couple themes you could work with here for your analysis – first and foremost, there is the seemingly interminable amount of expectations for young women – especially those from traditional families – to conform to a certain feminine ideal.  There is also the implication of a certain flaunted promiscuity among young generations (an attitude adopted from the beginning of time by older generations toward the youth of the day) and the negative attitudes toward female sexuality.

The first of these themes is symbolized most immediately by the form of the story itself.  By framing the narrative as a long list of instructions Kincaid is emphasizing how overwhelming these expectations can be for a young woman, and by not allowing the girl to get a word in edgewise we get a sense of how stifling these rules can be.  This is also an indication that girls are expected to uphold the traditional roles of women in everyday life, an idea which holds back many young women from advancing, from making their voices heard.  Many of the instructions given by the girl’s mother are practical – “this is how to sew on a button,” “this is how you grow okra,” “this is how you set a table for lunch” – but interspersed with this practical advice is advice on how to behave properly in society, which serves a wholly different function, and is more subjective.  The fact that the mother does not take notice of this subjectivity, and believes it all to be equally practical and necessary, is highlighted by the fact that there is no transition from one such type of advice to the other – it is all haphazard, with equal weight placed on separating the laundry and on managing finances and on homemade contraception. 

The second of the themes outlined above is best presented by the repetition of the mother’s harping on a false assumption that the girl “sings benna at Sunday School.”  Benna is a racy genre of Antiguan and Barbudan folk music used to convey scandals, often with sexual undertones.  Such prurience is not to be tolerated among young women on Sundays, and the mother stresses this throughout the story.  In addition the mother offhandedly attempts to shame the girl and repeats that she should act more like a lady, rather than “the slut you are bent on becoming.”  There is no evidence in the story that the girl is behaving in any way as a “slut,” and the use of the word seems unfair.  This is simply maternal candidness and hyperbole, used strategically as she attempts to have her daughter conform to the rules of modesty appropriate for a girl her age.  She instructs the girl on the proper ways to “love a man,” and has clear ideas on how a girl should behave – how short her dresses should be, how she should position herself when throwing marbles, “how to bully a man,” versus “how a man bullies you.”  Not only should the girl fill certain roles around the house and in society, but also with how she presents herself to men and how she distinguishes herself from a man. 

Finally, consider the end of the story, from the girls’ second interjection in her mother’s long monologue:  “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; 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?”  This is the girl questioning the applicability of the mother’s advice, an indication that her perspective on the world is not necessarily an exact replica of her mother’s wisdom.  And her mother responds with incredulity, challenging her daughter to become anything other than what she has instructed.  In this story Kincaid excellently illustrates the lack of control felt by the girl as she matures, and the pressure placed upon her by the previous generation to maintain their values and traditions.

I hope this helps clarify the story a bit more, and gives you a springboard to create and support your own thesis statement.

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