Jamaica Kincaid’s 1978 short story Girl 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 behavior she deems appropriate for females. 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 too overbearing on their children
- Society continues to impose its stereotypes on children
The Mother gives Beneficial & Negative Information to the Girl
The kind of information that the mother gives to the 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 provides quite a lot of information about the things that the daughter or 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, and that the girl should not eat fruit when out on the streets. In effect, the mother provides a lot of directions for the girl to follow.
Many of the information are beneficial to the girl, such as not eating fruit on the streets, soaking salt fish in order to reduce the salt content of the food, not going out in the sun with a bare head, etc. 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. These directions do not necessarily match the actual condition or situation of the girl, but applies to some situations that the girl experiences and not all of these directions are beneficial.
Parents Can Be Too Overbearing On Their Children
Sometimes, parents can be too overbearing on their own children. This is illustrated by the entire story, which virtually presents very little of the perspective or thoughts of the girl, and a lot about 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. More importantly, the story shows the reader 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 about her daughter, and not what she thinks the daughter thinks.
The story also illustrates that the mother does not have the will or desire to accommodate the thoughts of the girl, and that the mother does not have the will or desire to know more about her daughter. For instance, in talking about singing benna in Sunday school, the mother keeps indicating that the girl should not sing benna in Sunday school, without even providing good consideration for the probability that her daughter actually does not sing benna in Sunday school. Moreover, the mother does not even ask about whether or not the girl still plays marbles by swatting like a boy, and does not even think about the social aspect of her daughter’s life in relation to the social interactions she has with other children, including boys. In this regard, the mother can become overbearing on her daughter. Thus, the story provides warning to the reader so that the reader would not be too overbearing on their children or future children.
Society Continues to Impose Its Stereotypes on Children
Society keeps imposing its stereotypes on children. This is indicated in the story Girl. The many directions and ideas that the mother gives to her daughter are discriminatory of women in society. For instance, by indicating that the daughter should not play marbles like a boy, the mother readily indicates that there are some things that females cannot do – that there are some things that boys can do and that girls cannot, thereby establishing the gap between the sexes. In addition, by saying that the girl should be doing household chores, the mother readily separates her daughter from boys. The mother indicates that women should be limited to the home and that men can go out of the home without much restriction. More importantly, by simply repeating the word “slut”, the mother keeps on labeling her daughter in a derogative way. In effect, the mother recreates in her daughter the kind of discrimination against females that the mother has experienced first hand.
Jamaica Kincaid effectively illustrates some of the ills of society, particularly parents, regarding the propagation of discrimination through the years.
Kincaid, J. (1978). Girl. [Opens in New Window]