Short Story Analysis of Girl by Jamaica Kincaid
Short story analysis of Girl by Jamaica Kincaid Have you ever wished that someone had given you a guide on how live the right way? Jamaica Kincaid does just that in her short story, Girl. The narrative is presented as a set of life instructions to a girl by her mother to live properly in Antigua in the 1980’s. While the setting of the story is not expressly stated by the author in the narrative, the reader is able to understand the culture for which Girl was written. Jamaica Kincaid seems to be the passive narrator, receiving the instructions from her mother on how to live in their present social setting.
The mother figure focuses on two main categories in her guidance, social manners and domesticity. First, guidance is given for a child’s stage in life, on household chores such as washing clothes and cooking fish (Kincaid 118). This indicates a social status that is probably not upper class aristocracy. Next is the progression to social manners for a young girl, how to behave at Sunday school, how to eat properly at the dinner table, and how not to talk to “wharf-rat boys” (Kincaid 118).
This means the receiver is someone who would have some amount of social class and not necessarily destitute lower class. As the chronological progression advances, the homemaking skills of a young woman as opposed to the child stage are highlighted, as seen in guidance on how to sew buttons, hem dresses, and how to iron clothes (Kincaid 118). The next sets of social manners are taught for a young woman; how to behave when she likes someone and how to politely behave with people she doesn’t like (Kincaid 118).
This level of social behavior would be important in finding an appropriate husband of equal status while not offending unsuitable partners. The next guidance on homemaking is aimed towards a proper woman, setting a table for meals, how to entertain guests, and how to behave in front male acquaintances (Kincaid 118). Finally, the mother expresses through metaphors how to act when looking for love, most noted in “squeeze the bread to make sure it’s fresh” (Kincaid 119). When viewed as a whole, the guidance given in Girl is meant for a young girl who will become a middle class, married woman with good standing.
Written in 1983, Kincaid narrates the thoughts and moral beliefs of the time by her mother. In Girl, Kincaid uses repetition of the term “slut” to emphasize that her mother did not want her to develop a bad moral reputation (Kincaid 118-119). Later in the narration though are her mother’s thoughts on abortion, “this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child” (Kincaid 119). It shows that while the mother instructed her in moral principles, she also understood that things happen to a young woman.
The practical nature of this instruction seems to indicate more modern thought while still living in a society of traditions. Another hint of the time period is the mention of divorce and how to live after it, “this is how you love a man…and if they don’t work out, don’t feel bad about giving up” (Kincaid 119). This could indicate that divorce is an accepted practice in the more modern society that Jamaica Kincaid wrote Girl in. The location of the story plays a large role in understanding the character’s interactions.
The story opens with instructions on cleaning clothes upon a “stone heap” (Kincaid 118). In 1983 America, most households would have already had washing machines or at least a wash board and bucket rather than the older form of washing clothes at the river and utilizing stones. The next indication of place setting is seen in the narrator posing the question “is it true you sing benna in Sunday school? ” (Kincaid 118). According to Wikipedia contributors, Benna is a “genre of Antiguan and Barbadian music” (Wikipedia).
While it is possible that the narration is for an immigrant girl or someone who already has learned cultural traditions, the rest of the narration indicates otherwise. The guidance on Sunday shows that the setting is a place that most likely practices their Christian religious service openly and with reverence. The final indicator of setting is the instruction on the care for a not only an okra tree, but a plant called dasheen (Kincaid 118). A dasheen is a “tall-growing tropical plant” (Stephens). Again, the specificity of the location this plant can grow is an indicator of the Caribbean location the story is set in.
Jamaica Kincaid’s narrative Girl can read as a reflection of the Antiguan culture in which it was set, as well as the mentality of a woman on how she should live her life in the 1980’s. Works Cited Kincaid, Jamaica. “Girl. ” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Alison Booth and Kelly Mays. New York: Norton, 2011. 118-119. Print. Wikipedia contributors. “Benna (genre). ” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 Sep. 2010. Web. 6 Nov. 2011. Stephens, James M. “Dasheen – Clocasia esculenta. ” University of Florida IFAS Extension. University of Florida IFAS Extension. n. d. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.