What I Have Been Doing Lately by Jamaica Kincaid

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What I Have Been Doing Lately Characters

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"What I Have Been Doing Lately" is an elliptical, almost surreal narrative that begins with the words, "What I have been doing lately," and proceeds to depict, in list-like form, a series of actions engaged in by the unidentified and nameless narrator. All the events in the story unfold from the narrator's perspective. While not identified by name, age, class, race, or even by a striking feature, the narrator is generally considered to be female. The only physically descriptive information the reader receives about the narrator is that her "shadow was small." The narrator's lack of a specific identity prevents the reader from definitively identifying her and thus allows for multiple interpretations of who the character is and what role she plays in the narrative. One reading of the narrator, offered by Diane Simmons in Jamaica Kincaid, is that she is a person forever caught in a "story of departure and loss" who "will never be the same as she was before she left." Bryant Mangum, in Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, alleges that the narrator symbolizes humankind's fall from innocence into knowledge.

The tale begins as the narrator, summoned from bed by a ringing doorbell, opens the door to find no one there. After stepping outside and looking north and south, the narrator walks north, seeing the planet Venus in the sky, a monkey in a leafless tree, and finally an impassable body of water. After years pass, the narrator boards a boat, crosses the body of water, and continues along a straight path through a pasture, observing a dog, then a goat; they "looked the other way when it saw me coming." When the narrator turns to look at the path behind her, everything has changed: it has become hilly and the landscape is full of flowering trees. Turning to continue on, the narrator finds that a deep dark hole has opened up in the ground. Wondering what is at the bottom, the narrator says:

On purpose I fell in. I fell and I fell, over and over as if I were an old suitcase. On the sides of the deep hole I could see things written but perhaps it was in a foreign language because I couldn't read them. Still I fell, for I don't know how long. As I fell I began to see that I didn't like the way falling made me feel. Falling made me feel sick and I missed all the people I had loved. I said, I don't want to fall anymore and I reversed myself.

The narrator continues to walk through "days and nights, rain and shine," until she sees a figure coming from the horizon that she believes to be her mother. The figure is not the narrator's mother, but it is a woman who knows the narrator. She asks what the narrator has been doing lately. After contemplating several nonsensical answers, the narrator repeats the events already recounted in the story, in some places adding events or details but often repeating her first account word for word. She concludes by describing herself coming upon a group of beautiful people having a picnic. After...

(The entire section is 779 words.)