Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Without the typical formal structure of setting, characterization, or color that are hallmarks of Kincaid’s writing, “Girl” is only slightly more than two pages in length. It is, however, the economy of structure that is compelling. In order to capture speech patterns, Kincaid makes unique use of the narrative voice of a nameless girl recalling her mother’s distant and at times sharp remonstrances about things to do and not do lest she become the slut her mother fears she is bent on becoming. The Old Testament, litany-style series of imperatives from mother to daughter are strung together with semicolons, punctuated by occasional commas. The incantatory language is stern and distant (“and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming”), reflecting tension between mother and daughter. The style is haunting, particularly the disjointedness that vividly and characteristically captures the experience of adolescence and growing up. For example, the pattern of the mother’s remonstrances is markedly disorderly and fragmentary, most certainly because it reflects the way the daughter recalls and restructures the way she heard them. Or perhaps, fragmentization could be read as daughter parodying mother’s well-ordered sense of decorum and sanctimonious respectability.

The tone is one of cold isolation and detachment from emotion and intimacy, ominous at times, yet Kincaid manages to infuse some humor into the remonstrances (“this is how to spit in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn’t fall on you”). This “how to” contradicts the very core of the middle-class values of respectability and decorum that the mother so persistently attempts to inculcate in the daughter. One could perhaps read this contradictory, ill-placed instruction as a reflection of the fluidity of an otherwise stern mother’s value system or as an ambivalence, a weakness, an inconsistency of the mother’s erstwhile correct, strong, dominant, “cultured” posture. The very nature of Kincaid’s stance on the idea of structures, strictures, and her resistance to canons points to the latter. The structure of “Girl” is but one small example of Kincaid breaking through the linearity of the canon, the strictures of traditional culture and forms.

Historical Context

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Antigua: British Colony
"Girl'' was first published in The New Yorker magazine twelve years after Kincaid left Antigua...

(The entire section is 680 words.)

Literary Style

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Point of View
"Girl'' does not have a narrator in the conventional sense, because it does not have action in the conventional...

(The entire section is 530 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In "Girl" Kincaid incorporates elements from her own life as she examines the relationship between a mother and her daughter.


(The entire section is 214 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

First published in the June 26, 1978, issue of the New Yorker, "Girl" was the first of what would become more than a dozen short...

(The entire section is 962 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

1978: Antigua is a semi-independent "Associated State'' under British domain, no longer a full colony, but not an independent nation....

(The entire section is 183 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Find some examples of poems that are considered dramatic monologues. Examples include ‘‘My Last Duchess’’ by Robert Browning and...

(The entire section is 194 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"Girl" and several other Kincaid stories had already been published in the influential magazine the New Yorker, when Kincaid's...

(The entire section is 86 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"Girl" has been selected for several important anthologies, including Wayward Girls, Wicked Women: An Anthology of Stories (1987),...

(The entire section is 193 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"Girl" is available on audiotape, produced in 1991 by the American Audio Prose Library and read by the author.

(The entire section is 18 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Girl’’ is available on audiotape, read by the author. The tape, produced in 1991 by the American Audio Prose Library, is titled...

(The entire section is 41 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Annie John (1983) is an episodic novel in eight parts by Jamaica Kincaid. Annie John, a young girl living on the island of Antigua in...

(The entire section is 199 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Als, Hilton. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Review of Lucy, by Jamaica Kincaid. The Nation 252 (February 18, 1991): 207-209.

Broeck, Sabine. “When Light Becomes White: Reading Enlightenment Through Jamica Kincaid’s Writing.” Callaloo 25 (Summer, 2002): 821-844.

Garis, Leslie. “Through West Indian Eyes.” The New York Times Magazine 140 (October 7, 1990): 42-44.

Jaggi, Maya. “A Struggle for Independence.” The Times Literary Supplement, April 26, 1991, 20.

Matos, Nicole C., and Kimberly S. Holcomb. “’The Differences Between Two Bundles’: Body and Cloth in the Works of Jamaica Kincaid.” Callaloo 25 (Summer, 2002): 844-857.

Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. Jamaica Kincaid: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Snell, Marilyn. “Jamaica Kincaid Hates Happy Endings.” Mother Jones 22, no. 5 (September/October, 1997): 28.

Valens, Keja. “Obvious and Ordinary: Desire Between Girls in Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies 25 (June, 2004): 123-150.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Bardsley, Barney, Review of At the Bottom of the River, in New Statesman, Vol. 108, No. 2790, September...

(The entire section is 437 words.)