Jamaica Kincaid’s short story Girl (1978) provides a glimpse of the relationship between a girl and her mother. The girl represents Kincaid in her youth. The story shows that, in this relationship, the mother tries to prescribe the behaviors that she deems appropriate for females. She expects and imposes these behaviors on the girl (Kincaid). In addition, it is apparent that the girl is constrained within these prescribed behaviors. Such constrictive condition is a result of the mother’s dominant behavior toward the girl. Considering Kincaid’s background as well as the cultural keywords used, the short story emphasizes how certain cultural characteristics are passed on through the generations. In this regard, the story focuses on the significance of familial relationships in shaping individual behavior.
Jamaica Kincaid’s (1978) Girl depicts a conversation between a mother and her daughter. The main points in the short story include:
- The mother gives beneficial and negative information to the daughter
- Parents can be overbearing on their children
- Society continues to impose stereotypes on children
The Mother gives Beneficial & Negative Information to the Girl
The information that the mother gives to her daughter includes positive and negative ones. In the story, the mother provides a lot of information about what to do, such as what to cook, what to do in the house, and what to do outside the house. The mother also prescribes information about the things that the girl should not do. These things that should not be done include singing benna in Sunday school, as well as swatting like a boy to play marbles.
Another important aspect of the story is that the mother tells the girl about the situations when the girl should do or not do those things. For instance, the mother tells the girl that she should not walk bareheaded if the sun is up, and that the girl should walk like a lady on Sundays. The mother also demands that the girl should not eat fruit when out on the streets. In effect, the mother provides specific directions that she expects the girl to follow.
Some of the information is beneficial to the girl, such as soaking salt fish in order to reduce the salt content of the food, and not going out in the sun with a bare head. However, some of the information has the potential to be disadvantageous to the girl. For instance, the mother tells the girl how to prepare medicine in order to abort pregnancy. Such medicine is homemade and can have adverse effects on the health of the girl. Also, forbidding the girl to play marbles, even when with boys, can lead to issues in the way the girl makes social interactions with males.
Parents can be Overbearing on Their Children
Sometimes, parents can be overbearing on their children. This is illustrated in the entire story, which presents very little of the perspective or thoughts of the girl. Kincaid’s story mainly shows the perspective and thoughts of the mother. The mother states most of the lines of the story. In contrast, the daughter says a few lines. As a result, the reader is left to wonder what the girl thinks.
The story shows that the mother does not consider much of what the girl thinks. It is apparent in the mother’s lines that she just keeps saying about what she thinks is appropriate for her daughter, and not what the daughter thinks. The story illustrates that the mother does not have the will or desire to accommodate the thoughts of the girl. The mother does not have the will or desire to know more about her daughter. For example, in talking about singing benna in Sunday school, the mother keeps saying that the girl should not sing benna in Sunday school, without even considering the probability that her daughter actually does not sing benna in Sunday school.
Moreover, the mother does not ask about whether or not the girl still plays marbles by swatting like a boy. It appears that the mother does not think about the social aspect of her daughter’s life in relation to her interactions with other children. In this regard, the mother is overbearing on her daughter. The story provides a warning to the reader regarding the dangers of being overbearing on children.
Society Continues to Impose Stereotypes on Children
Society imposes stereotypes on children. This condition is illustrated in Kincaid’s Girl. The directions and ideas that the mother gives to her daughter are discriminatory of women in society. For example, the mother says that the daughter should not play marbles like a boy, and that the girl should do household chores. These statements show that the mother believes that there are some things that females cannot or should not do. These stereotypes establish the gap between the sexes.
The mother is a representation of the idea that women should be limited to the home and that men can go out without restriction. More importantly, by simply repeating the word “slut”, the mother keeps labeling her daughter in a derogative way. It can be argued that this situation recreates in the daughter the kind of discrimination against females that the mother has experienced, probably in her younger years. In this way, Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl effectively illustrates some of the ills of society, and how parents could propagate discrimination through generations.
- Kincaid, J. (2003). Girl. In A. Charters (Ed.), The story and its writer: An introduction to short fiction (6th ed., pp. 320-321). Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin’s. (Original work published 1978)