Jamaica Kincaid Analysis

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How do themes involving parents and children appear in Annie John, Lucy, and The Autobiography of My Mother?

What justification can you see for Jamaica Kincaid calling The Autobiography of My Mother an “autobiography” when the subject is someone whom the narrator never knew?

How does sex function in Xuela’s life in The Autobiography of My Mother?

What use does Kincaid make of clothing in her fiction? How is it related to themes of power?

What relationship does Kincaid see between power and colonial rule?

How does power function as a theme in Kincaid’s novels? Can children have power over parents? How can they exert that power?

What evidence of Kincaid’s interest in botany do you find in her fiction?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

In addition to her short stories, Jamaica Kincaid has written the novels Annie John (1985), Lucy (1990), The Autobiography of My Mother (1996); a book-length essay concerning her native island Antigua entitled A Small Place (1988); a children’s book, Annie, Gwen, Lilly, Pam, and Tulip (1986), with illustrations by Eric Fischl, and the nonfiction works My Brother (1997) and My Garden (Book) (1999). In 1998, she edited My Favorite Plant: Writers and Gardeners on the Plants They Love.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Jamaica Kincaid’s short-story collection At the Bottom of the River received the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1983. Her novel Annie John was one of three finalists for the international Ritz Paris Hemingway Award in 1985. Her short story “Xuela” was included in The Best American Short Stories 1995; “In Roseau” was included in The Best American Short Stories 1996.

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jamaica Kincaid first gained respect and admiration as the writer of At the Bottom of the River (1983), a collection of unconventional but thematically unified short stories. She has also written two important memoirs, A Small Place (1988), about growing up in a Caribbean vacation resort, and My Brother (1997), which relates the story of her brother’s struggle with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Additionally, as a staff writer for The New Yorker for twenty years, she wrote numerous “Talk of the Town” pieces and frequent articles on gardening. In 2005, she published the travel book Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya, in which describes a trip to Nepal during which she sought out rare plants for her garden in Vermont.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Jamaica Kincaid has made writing about her life her life’s work. Her finely honed style highlights personal impressions and feelings over plot development. Although she allows a political dimension to emerge from her use of Caribbean settings, her fiction does not strain to be political. Rather, she uses the political issues relating to her colonial background to intensify the most important issue of her fiction: the intense bond between mother and daughter. Her spare, personal style simultaneously invites readers to enter Kincaid’s world and, by its toughness, challenges them to do so.

Although she made no specific effort to align herself with any ideology, her first book, At the Bottom of the River (which in 1983 won the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters), quickly established Kincaid as a favorite among feminist and postcolonial critics, who lauded her personal but unsentimental presentation of the world of women and of the Caribbean. Her fame continued as she received more distinguished honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1989 and honorary degrees from William College, Long Island University, and Wesleyan University. Among the awards she has received for her writing are the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Award.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Als, Hilton. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Review of Lucy. The Nation 252 (February 18, 1991): 207-209. Als compares the novel with A Small Place, since both are concerned with oppression. Als emphasizes Kincaid’s importance as a Caribbean writer who is not afraid to tackle the issues of racism and colonialism at the risk of alienating readers.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Jamaica Kincaid. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1998. A collection of individually authored chapters on Kincaid, this critical study includes bibliographical references and an index.

Bouson, J. Brooks. Jamaica Kincaid: Writing Memory, Writing Back to the Mother. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005. An examination of Kincaid’s life, including her relationship with her mother, her homeland of Antigua, and her conflicting relations with her father and brother.

Davies, Carole Boyce. Black Women, Writing, and Identity: Migrations of the Subject. New York: Routledge, 1994. Focuses on the importance of migration in the construction of identity in black women’s fiction in the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean. Especially insightful regarding Kincaid’s Lucy.

De Abruna, Laura Nielsen. “Jamaica Kincaid’s Writing and the Maternal-Colonial Matrix.” In Caribbean Women Writers, edited by Mary Condé and Thorunn Lonsdale. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. Discusses Kincaid’s presentation of women’s experience, her use of postmodern narrative strategies, and her focus on the absence of the once-affirming mother or mother country that causes dislocation and alienation.

Ellsberg, Peggy. “Rage Laced with Lyricism.” Review of A Small Place. Commonweal 115 (November 4,...

(The entire section is 778 words.)