Why does Jamaica Kincaid repeat ideas in "Girl"?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The story “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid centers on a mother to daughter talk.  The author grew up in Antigua but is now an American citizen.  This guidance seems to be for an Antiguan adolescent girl, but there are elements that are applicable for all girls.

The story circulates around a mother who fears that her daughter has gotten off the path of appropriate behavior.  As the mother hoists her commands at her daughter, there is more involved than the advice. 

Something has happened that makes the mother afraid of the choices that her daughter is making.  The mother believes that her daughter’s future and reputation are endangered.  This becomes apparent when the mother indicts her daughter periodically with comments about her sexual behavior. 

...on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the  slut that you are so bent on becoming; don’t sing benna in Sunday School; you mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys, not even to give directions; 

Repetition

Her references to her daughter becoming a slut are repeated four times in the paragraph.  In addition, she gives her counsel about how to stand, protect herself, squat as a girl, and other hints at acceptable behavior. 

The mother hopes that this will make her daughter aware that she knows about her illicit behavior; furthermore, she expects her to stop it before she completely ruins her reputation.  This is obvious in the last statement by the mother when she thinks that the baker will not let the daughter go near the bread. 

The mother offers advice in several other areas. 

  • How to wash clothes— whites on Monday and colors on Tuesday
  • How to cook—marinate the fish the night before you cook it
  • How to treat people
  • How to handle men
  • How to make an abortion
  • How to handle money
  • Ironing
  • Setting the table
  • Planting the vegetables and flowers
  • Cleaning the house
  • Sewing

The daughter seems to listen respectfully to her mother.  She only makes two comments: She says that she did not sing benna in church; she asks her mother what to do if the baker would not let her smell the bread.  Her mother’s misinterpretation of the comment supports her belief that the girl has already ruined her reputation.  It appears that the daughter is frightened of her mother.  On the other hand, the mother loves her daughter, yet she is domineering and afraid for her.

The story is written in an unusual manner.  It is one long sentence with the semi-colons used to separate the individual ideas.  The narrative style employed is stream of consciousness which is a literary technique that conveys the thoughts and feelings of a character as they occur. The style accentuates the idea of someone who speaks rapidly but also emphasizes points by briefly stopping in between ideas. The mother seems to want to cover everything that she believes the daughter needs to know.

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