Jamaica Kincaid

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What is the speaker's main fear in "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid?

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The tense, hectoring style of "Girl" is full of fear. This fear is expressed in an avalanche of commands and prohibitions, suggesting a world so hostile that the girl will be lost unless she fails to pay close attention to all of them. Many different subjects arise, but one of the most insistent is that of the girl's relations with boys and men. The fact that the speaker refers to both, and that the piece is called "Girl," but she refers to the listener as a woman at the end, suggests an adolescent girl on the threshold of becoming a woman.

Initially, rules such as "you mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys, not even to give directions," are about keeping one's distance from the opposite sex. Only at the end does the speaker instruct the girl on how to engage with men (rather than boys):

this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man, and if this doesn’t work there are other ways...

Finally, the speaker is horrified by the idea that the girl may become "the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread." These references to men, and this final image, reveal the speaker's greatest fear: that the girl will lose her good reputation or gain a bad one. This fear of impurity or, more importantly, the public perception of it, is traditional in almost every society in the world, and it is the principal fear that underlies the speaker's anxiety about the girl growing up.

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