Literal analysis of ‘Girl’ by Jamaica Kincaid

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Girl,' an intriguing short story was written by Jamaica Kincaid, was included in the collection At the Bottom of the River (1983). Kincaid, born in 1949, is an Antiguan-American author and self-described gardener. She lives in North Bennington, Vermont, and during the summers she works as a "Professor of African and African American Studies in Residence" at Harvard University (Paravisini 5). Her literary work delves into topics such as colonization, neocolonial legacy, ethnicity, sexuality, and mother-daughter relationships.

The Girl 650-word story includes a to-do list that a girl receives from her mother. The story is mostly narrated in the second person depicting a scenario where a girl hears her mother's list of instructions and the behavior she (her mother) is trying to inculcate in her. It dialogues a conversation between an authority (the mother) and a respondent (the daughter). It depicts several domestic scenarios where the mother selectively applies her daughter's present with the implications that could after that come if she continues with the same trend of behavioral patterns. The story entails several motif and themes, the structure of the tale bases itself on a mother-daughter dispute with the mother becoming more stringent in her instructions, each time the daughter asks any questions (Schilb 7). This paper will illustrate the significant themes prevalently applied in the story and adjoin the comments made by other several authorities on it, then finalize with a conclusion to which more of findings will be appended. It will also work towards demonstrating that Jamaica Kincaid a well-versed novelist applies more of a pragmatic than the fictional approach in this story as opposed to what is conventional in short story literature. Short story literatures are mainly about a given topic that the author structures and uses more fictional approaches in detailing his or her message.

The themes dominant in this story include the danger of female sexuality. The mother appears to draw her instruction based on her experience and observation of how the world is; she urges her daughter that if her behavior continues as such, she will end up being a prostitute. She worries that if she (mother) does not address the dangers of for instance loose dressing, then, unfortunately, her daughter may be a victim of promiscuity. She addresses how her daughter ought to comport herself in public and in private. The affirmation that the mother seeks to communicate is how her daughter is to completely identify herself as a girl and therefore earn the society's respect by doing and carrying out her chores in a respectable manner. In essence, she is to act not as a boy but as a girl. To be alive to the duties that a productive woman should perform in a household. She bombards her daughter with a list of so many Do(s) than Don't(s) sufficiently implying that any absconding on her daughter's female role defaults to her being a community failure.

Kincaid's pieces of literature are majorly influenced by her life circumstances, her growing up experiences. In this story, she paints a picture of her own family where she indirectly insinuates though this story of how her mother neglected her to take care of the smaller sibling brothers (Schilb et, al' 20). So it's as though she imagines of the role her mother would have played by relating more maternally with her, by giving her advice to life. So portrays a theme of how disadvantageous it is to be a woman in the society, how a girl has to strive hard to earn her respect. It feels as though she is constantly reprimanding the daughter for being incorrigible to many instructions that she is obliged to. She also seems to affirm that respect for a girl is not ascribed at birth but earned in daily feminine chores and communal productivity. So she uses imagery in her local context to paint that picture of a daughter-mother relationship. And even though she discourages her literature readers from taking her fiction too literal she manages to create some magical realism (Schilb et, al' 23). Moreover, as Paravisini adds, she uses elements of ordinary life to bring out a real world in on an unreal one (Paravisini et, al' 25). Moreover, the story sounds like a declaration of Do(s) and Don't(s), as mentioned previously, although these instructional episodes take more prolonged time. The instructional information is dispatched all along the daily livings of the two but creates the sentiments more akin to declarations to the daughter.

Another theme rightfully captured in the story is the power of domestic knowledge. The mother in this story appears to insist the set of information that she dispatches on her daughter at a domestic setup will someday in the future make her productive and successful in handling her local issues. The mother reiterates that without discipline and ethical values, the girl risks falling into the societal evils including a life of promiscuity. She further believes that such intricate knowledge cannot be learned in school or the public but that it can only be attained in the confines of a domestic setup.

Thus the mother uses an authoritative tone within her imperative context separating regular dialogue from the instructional dialogue. Authoritative tones are used in literary works to emphasize or deemphasize a point. By using declarative tones, we learn of what the mother wishes the daughter can embrace in life and what she doesn't express in such terms as highly elective. Kincaid creates through the mother character a mental picture and perfect world to which the daughter character in her story is to live in. According to her; household work such as cooking pumpkin fritters, house and compound sweeping, cultivating and growing okra, errands such as buying bread, and washing clothes bring about the efficiency of a woman. The productivity of efficient work is highly dependent on the morality of the woman. If she (a woman) is immoral, then she loses the sense of woman held in the society, thus neglecting her household role. That kind of neglect kicks in a domino effect to which other systemic failures are envisaged. The works are more of what the author wishes to have depicted the mother and the daughter as; i.e., the daughter becoming a productive, capable, wise woman in her present and the future.

The motifs used in this story are highly elaborative, they include Food. Food is a domestic concept that ascribes to a woman's role in the society. As Baiser asserts; Food offers a means for the author to create compelling imagery in the profound adult literature (Baiser 23). The use of actual visual images in literary works is even more effective in creating the mental image, however, if visual imagery cannot be inserted in a piece of writing then the inclusion of actual names of foods or dishes in equally powerful realism (Baiser et, al' 24). As a lover of gardening as mentioned in the introduction, Kincaid as a lover of gardening wouldn't let her work be complete without introducing the element of food (Baiser et, al' 7). Food is a domestic aspect. The mother emphasizes that the quality of a woman's life is dependent upon her domesticity. Domesticity brings respectability. Food is a special enculturating tool for many mothers; it is the domestic aspect through which mothers pass down the old recipes and cooking methods. Hence the mother sees the success of her daughter is dependent on her absorbing knowledge on matters kitchen and its related errands. The mentioning of specific foods such as tea, bread pudding, doukona is indicative of the author's contextualization of the food motif in the story (Baiser et, al' 25).

The other motif applied by Kincaid in this story is cloth. The depiction of clothing concerning a woman goes a long way into ascribing her societal respect and place. Clothing depicts a person's character and illustrates the values they uphold. As Baiser explains, clothes are the most evidential way of inferring a person's culture, identity, and opinion, they from a considerable distance tell you of a person's biases and the possible aspects of life they embrace (Baiser et, al' 26). Kincaid presents the mother detailing how the daughter ought to wear to appear descent without the misleading notions of being a slut. She insists on her daughter that her dressing goes a long way with her role as a woman. She draws a connecting line between a woman and her dressing as interconnected. Kincaid as mentioned in the introduction; often incorporates in her writing motifs that relate to mother-daughter relationships, so the use of cloth is an apt way for her to depict this relationship. She illustrates the mother as one who sees her image in the daughter, the dressing code of the daughter depicts the opinions and character of the mother, since it's the mother's role to instruct the daughter. She connects issues of cloth with other chores related to it such as washing, sewing, and ironing; more than defining how her daughter should decently dress. She also goes ahead, in combining the necessity of clothes with feminine identity by insisting in several lines of her story how indecent dressing indents on the overall character of a woman.

As noted up to this point, Kincaid is very selective on the motifs and themes she employs in her works. She identifies what is contextual in every society and uses it to construct her story. She sort of puts her mood in the story, reading the works one feels the ascending of sentiments form mild declarations to more stringent ones. In effect, if the literary works were to be verbalized, then the tone would increase as the dialogues went further. She borrows a lot from her colonial experience and bases her authoritative tone from the command structure verbalized during the colonial era (Baiser et, al' 30). The story is more of a dialogue between a colonial master and a servant, although there is the motherly sentiment in her story, it feels as though the structuring mirrors that conversation between an authority and a subject. It is intriguing how Kincaid can maintain the delicate balance between a mother advice to her daughter and her declarations within the same sentence and story.

Moreover, Paravisini expounds on this practical aspect of Kincaid. She sees Kincaid as an experienced writer who instead of applying more of the conventional symbols and motifs in her literary works, prefers to use local and unconventional symbols (Paravisini 25). It, therefore, consolidates our opinion that Kincaid story of girl could in some aspect reflect on her own life. She either depicts herself as the mother addressing her daughter or as the daughter addressed by her mother. Baiser in his commentaries places this story as a first-person narrative narrated in the second person (Baiser et, al' 12). He further notes that the story though instructive could be in some sense Kincaid reminiscence of her mother or relationship with her daughter (Baiser et, al' 13). Hence her pragmatism can only find meaning in relation to her life experience.

Kincaid also refers to symbols in her story. As already identified, she applies the use of local elements of literary writing to bring out what is referred to as magical realism. She uses as mentioned actual symbols to create that mental picture on the reader. Her usage of the symbols is very intriguing since as stated previously she employs the use of contextual symbols that form a mental image of the scenario she recreates in her story. And so in this book she uses Benna an Antiguan folksong. She uses it to symbolize the topic of sexuality that in most cases mothers coil away from addressing. Benna was a song sang by the Antiguans who used the song and its language to communicate during the colonial times even detection from the British (Schilbet, al' 26). So Kincaid depicts the mother using this song to pass down information on sexuality to her daughter without anyone knowing what she was saying.

However, Kincaid has used this symbol to also indicate of another use other than that of communicating hidden meanings. During the colonial era, the folksong Benna was forbidden by the British since they couldn't understand it, they couldn't allow its use (Schilbet, al' 28). So singing Benna even in Sunday school or church was forbidden; therefore Kincaid applies that limited understanding of it to depict matters sexuality. It appears as though the shyness of the mother is the shyness of Kincaid in her person. As critics assert, the mother character details in many if not all ways the personality of Jamaica Kincaid (Schilbet, al' 14). She (the mother) sees sexuality as a matter that many women don't speak of to their daughters and can in many cases use indirect language to insinuate specific meanings or communicate particular information. However, even in as much as the Benna folksong was forbidden, the talk on sexuality was not, but shared an equal distaste for it (use of Benna song).

Another aspect also present in the story is the sentiments of infringing of a mother into a daughters life and choices. Reading through the story; it is easier to notice a point where the imperatives become too many as to impede the daughter's freedom to be herself or to take her identity. As asserted by Schilb, the mother appears to be self-possessed with the societal rapport of the daughter as to be extremely protective and instructive to her (Schilbet, al' 32). It is easy to misconstrue that the overreach by the mother could be a cause of her insecurities. Her endless litany of declaration gives the reader an opportunity to evaluate the character of the mother. In as much as she appears to be moral in passing down her wisdom on how to live life as a productive woman, she, in essence, betrays her inadequacies. The story as mentioned is written in the perspective of the daughter, yet the language of the mother's imperatives always is in the second person. An indicator of the mother's unchangeability and insistence on adherence to moral rules rather than figuring life as one lives concept.


Having analyzed ‘Girl ‘the story by Jamaica Kincaid, we derive the following findings. The story is a product of Kincaid's personal experience depicted through fictional characters. ‘Girl’ is a dialogue that uses several themes, motifs and symbols that collaboratively paint the mental picture that Kincaid desired to portray. The story has more of a declarative tone than the regular soft tone, detailing a setup of instructions that a daughter is to follow towards a respectable life. And as most of the critics have asserted, the work is a 650 worded advisory piece of literature, a piece of work whose meaning is not only on the context of the characters involved but the circumstances of a girl's life.

Work cited

Baiser, Benjamin, RashaElhesha, and Tamer Kahveci. "Motifs in the assembly of food web networks." Oikos 125.4 (2016): 480-491.

Schilb, Ed John, and John Clifford. "Making Literature Matter: An Anthology for Readers and." (2015).

Paravisini-Gebert, Lizabeth. Jamaica Kincaid: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Pub Group, 1999.

January 25, 2023



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