“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid

The story in query is in the form of a how-to-do and to-do list that contain a 650 phrase sentenced dialogue. It shows what a character, the girl, hears her mother say to her and is told in most cases in the second person. She can hear the instructions her mother offers her and the behavior she tries to instill in her. The reader can clearly see the mother try to advise her daughter through the prescription of how the girl ought to go about every day tasks and her life in general. The reader is able to infer that the mom got this information from someone else beforehand on in her own life and that it was mostly the same way her mother had spoken to her. This was therefore all she had ever known. As the story progresses, the mother’s voice can be said to be both critical and condescending as she suggests that her daughter may be well on her way to becoming a “slut.” This paper is a literal analysis of this story that shows how the author utilizes element of fiction work to bring out the themes of the domestication of women and the traditional views held by the girl’s mother.

The first element of works of fiction in discussion is a character in the story, more specifically the mother. In the story, the mover views herself is the last line of defence between her daughter and a promiscuous and disrespectful life. In her view, her daughter is well on her way to this life as evidenced by how she sits, sings Antiguan folksongs during Sunday school and how she walks. She therefore imparts in her daughter domestic knowledge which she can only hope will help her become respectable. The mother’s wisdom is traditional and reveals clearly the domestication of women. She knows how to clean, cook and keep a household. She also has a strong sense of decorum and social etiquette knowing how to behave around all types of people. To her, knowing how to interact with people together with this domestic knowledge bring respect from the community and the family as well as happiness. The mother’s advice and instructions show that the community plays a role in the domestication of women by appreciating these roles and setting them aside for them. The mother appears to believe that none of this advice will make a difference as her daughter seems to be fated for a life of ill repute. She hints repeatedly that her daughter behaves promiscuously like a “slut.” She states that “on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming” (Kincaid p. 10). This suggests a traditional view of a time when a woman’s way of walking was used to judge her behaviour. Her fears belie deeper ones of the unjustified state of what it takes to be a women in the traditional Antiguan society. Despite the mother’s accusations and remarks, the fact that she is aware of how one can make abortion-inducing potions suggests that she has either had illicit interactions with men in the past or that she at least understands that these encounters do occur sometimes.

The author also uses images, allegory and symbols to show the domestication of women. The girl is given many directions on housekeeping. They range from very fine details such as “this is how you sweep a corner” (22) to bigger tasks in housekeeping such as “this is how you sweep a yard” (24). She is also given many instructions about clothing such as “soak your little cloths right after you take them off” (5). As one reads on, it becomes apparent that the issue here is less about cleanliness and housekeeping. This happens when the mother states “this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming” (17). In this line, she does not only explain the “how” but the “why.” Which shows that women need to do these domestic chores as society and the community is watching and that the daughter’s reputation is at stake. It is in the same spirit that the daughter learns different ways of giving people different impressions. Therefore the teachings given to her by her mother are seen to be about maintaining a good reputation in the community. On the matter of traditional views, these symbols, images and allegories are aimed at bringing out the theme of society and class which is more or less a thing of the past. The girl learns how to smile at different people as well as how to set the dinner table based on the social status of the guest. This is seen in the line this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest” (30).

The setting of the story is also important in bringing out the theme of domestication of women. Antigua, where the story is set, is a half of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda which is located in the British West Indies. Lie all the countries in this region, Antigua and Barbuda was colonized by the British and was led by them for many years. In these years, the colonialists brought in slave labour from India and Africa to use in harvesting cash crops such as tobacco and sugar cane. In short therefore, culture mixing was prominent in this country when Kincaid was growing up. The reader can see that while the girl leans how to make traditional Antiguan meals, she is also taught how to “set a table for tea” (28) which is an extract of British culture. The role of women and the expectations of society in this story are also similar to those of British culture at the time. The woman’s place was at the home, cleaning and cooking and her image in society was important to uphold.

Finally, the syntax by the author also brings out the same theme. Kincaid did not make this story a run-on sentence by mistake. In literature, full-stops are a form of pause button. The reader gets to rest for a second each time they encounter one. By removing the periods, Kincaid has the reader run with the text which helps them realise that the mother is going on and on with her warnings, teachings and advise. Upon reading this story is lulls by this syntax into the world of women where all they do is clean and cook and take care of the household. This is the rhythm of their lives.

Conclusion

As far as short stories are concerned, Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” is the perfect story when talking about the domestication of women. Similarly, based on when and where it was written, the character of the mother shows readers the traditional views instilled in her by her mother and the society. Other than this character and the setting, syntax, and symbols also bring out this theme. From these elements of fiction, the author is able to bring out a realistic picture of her past.

Work Cited

Kincaid, Jamaica. At the Bottom of the River. , 2000. Internet resource.

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