Free «“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid» Essay Paper

“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid

The more traditional a society is, the more connection there is between generations and the more rule-bound human life can be. In Jamaica Kincaid’s prose poem “Girl” this aspect of people’s communication is revealed at the example of a mother and a daughter. The whole piece of writing is structured as a set of advice from the mother, but it looks rather like an adult woman’s reminiscence about her childhood and her mother’s instructions which got imprinted in her memory forever. Such themes as cultural background, home, femininity and sexuality are explored by the author in implicit ways.

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Speaking about the cultural background of the writer and her characters, it should be noted that the poem is autobiographical to a large extent. Jamaica Kincaid was born and raised in Antigua, the British West Indies, so the influence of the local culture is beyond argument. It is revealed at several levels: specific language used by the speaker, which is suggestive of the local dialect, a set of topics and the role of a woman that is implied in the poem. When discussing the language as a cultural marker, it is possible to notice that it partially coincides with Caribbean variant of English. Besides, some words labeling exclusively local phenomena can be met, such as for instance benna ,the word that refers to folk songs in Antiguan culture. Besides, the scope of advice meant for a girl implies a typical lifestyle that a woman might have in the region. For example, most of advice deals with domestic chores, so it is obvious that being a wife, cooking and caring about the house are the key duties of the local woman.  So, many of the instructions clearly suggest that the mother is an experienced housewife who knows how to manage housework and some nuances of excellence. She instructs her daughter about how to acquire these skills such as for instance:“Cook pumpkin fritters1 in very hot sweet oil; Soak salt fish overnight before you cook it…This is how you sweep a corner;This is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard”(Kincaid)

A set of guidelines is devoted to how take care about men, as it is a woman’s role. It is also remarkable that the mother advises her daughter on how to care about her husband’s clothes, which might mean that she is afraid that she is going to die earlier han he, so the daughter would be the one responsible for her father’s welfare: “This is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt so that it doesn’t have a crease; This is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have a crease” (Kincaid).

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The aspect of a woman’s role in a community is closely related to the theme of sexuality, as the main mother’s fears are related to the fact that her daughter is not going to be a decent woman, which would be a crash of the mother’s expectations. It is remarkable that she accuses the girl of the inappropriate behavior even though she is too young to have relationships with men. The woman projects her fears on the girl and scorns her, which does not look fair. The girl only answers with a couple of short lines to her mother’s tirade, which shows that she is meek and insecure. The most painful rebuke is the woman’s suspicion that her daughter is going to become “a slut”. This would mean to become an exile from the community to which she belongs because there are only two opportunities for women: to become “a slut” or to become a wise. This is why the mother is so assertive in making the girl a real domestic woman and warns her against possible misconduct: “On Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming… 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” ( Kincaid). This technique of repetition reinforces the woman’s terror of the wrong path that her daughter might take, and she actually implants this thought into the girl’s head. So, the ending of the poem is suggestive of this idea too, as it suggests that the community might reject a wrong type of a woman: “But what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?”, “You mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?” (Kincaid).

Another aspect of a woman’s role in the community is to behave with a kind of conformity and humility without any attempt to rebel. This is why the mother instructs the girl on the following aspect of social behavior: “This is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; This is how yoou smile to someone you don’t like at all; This is how you smile to someone you like completely” ( Kincaid). Smiling suggests being submissive and obedient, and adaptable to circumstances, which is partially a sign of wisdom typical for a woman’s character and partially a sign of women’s passive and subordinate position in society.

Speaking about the structure of the poem and the techniques used by the author, it should be noted that speaker uses two types of sentences to give her daughter a piece of advice. She resorts to short sentence to connect the story and to contribute to the tone of aggravation, and she uses long sentences to express the strong tone and the daughter’s revolt. The is an idea of control when the mother gives exact instructions on what to do on each day of the week:

“Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap;

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Wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry” ( Kincaid). This passage implies the totality of control that the mother has over the daughter’s life as it covers all possible variants and deals with very detailed aspects of life. The girl is not even free do decide on what day of the weak she wants to do some chores, she simply inherits it from her mother. On the one hand, passing tradition from one generation to the next is a symbol of culture’s stability and wisdom; on the other hand, however, it is a sign of women being oppressed. Punctuation is another technique that the author uses in order to reveal her idea of the mother’s domination ( and also, the customs’ domination) over a girl, as she uses semicolon throughout the text without a stop, which makes the series of guidelines seem endless.

Thus, the piece of writing is an example of prose poem, which is based on a dialogue ( primarily monologue) and reveals the relationship between the mother and the daughter in the Antiguan community. As it is clear from the text, it is deeply rooted in tradition, this is why a woman is not free and cannot fulfill her potential outside marriage. By considering such themes as  cultural background, home, femininity and sexuality the author makes the reader think of clichés and stereotypes that a woman has to live up to in her community.        

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