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Mothers usually have their children’s best interest at heart, guiding them through life at an attempt to prevent offspring from repeating their own mistakes. In the short story, “Girl,” Kincaid depicts her teenage years after her mother gave birth to Kincaid’s three younger brothers in succession. The psychological perspective of this story raises many questions from critics on whether or not the mother’s state of mind and outlook on women altered after she gave birth to her three sons. Kincaid’s story amplifies there is an importance in cultural standards, gender roles and sex, and behaviors among Caribbean women. Throughout the story, the speaker portrays herself to be the mother and gives her daughter advice in several different areas of life, which greatly confuses Kincaid.
According to Kincaid, in the Caribbean culture, there may be more reinforced, strict, and ridged expectations of gender roles. In the story, Kincaid’s Caribbean mother reinforces these ideals by making it clear she is trying to help Kincaid reach this standard which the mother, herself, likely grew up in. The mother makes a mention of her childhood standards by stating: “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap,” and continues directing her daughter to wash the color clothes on Tuesday and to let them dry on the clothesline (Kincaid 95). One critic, Carol Bailey, also argues “Girl” implies there are certain standards for young Caribbean women. Bailey critiques how the speaker in Kincaid’s story is repetitive when she mentions “the slut you are so bent on becoming.” Carol Bailey explains, “The variations of this expression recur throughout the text and might be one of the seemingly obvious lines that suggests the speaker’s complicity with the system and illustrates her efforts to shape a woman who performs the script of chastity appropriately” (109).
The oppression of gender roles can also restrict a woman’s ability to navigate sex and sexuality. In the text, Kincaid’s mother states her daughter is walking like a “slut” by suggesting: “[O]n Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming” (Kincaid 96). Kelly Falla critiqued this topic by stating, “The mother thinks the daughter has already set herself up for a life of promiscuity. The mother even goes to the extreme of instructing her daughter on ‘how to make medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child.’ This is a clear concoction to remedy an unwanted pregnancy” (Falla 3). The repeated shaming of appearance and its link to promiscuity portrays the mother had internalized issues about her own gender’s ability to be sexual. The fact Kincaid’s mother knew about an abortion recipe confirms she may have used it herself before.
Throughout the short story, the young girl does not seem to completely understand her mother’s instructions on how to behave. The daughter reaffirms she does not understand by speaking in the text. She asks: “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?” (96). Kincaid ends the story with the mother’s vague response to her daughter’s question about feeling the bread: “[Y]ou 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?” (96). According to Kim Becnel, “The most obvious meaning of the mother’s question is the implication that the girl will, indeed, grow up to be a ‘slut’ and, therefore, due to her lack of virtue, will not be allowed to handle the bread.” Becnel goes on to mention, “It is, however, also possible to interpret it as the mother’s shock that her daughter, whom she has been so certain will grow up to be promiscuous, will, in fact, be such a virtuous and unavailable woman that she will be unable to entice the baker into letting her touch his bread with all the sexual connotations therein implied.”
While it appears there are many possibilities the mother feels could happen to her daughter, the daughter still questions her mother’s true intentions. This leads the mother to be more concerned, implying some of these situations are inevitable. The mother’s interpretation of her daughter’s responses leads her to believe her daughter could be taken advantage of one of these days. The mother’s ideology of cultural standards, gender roles and sex, and behaviors confirms there is an unwritten rule about how Caribbean women should act.
Bailey, Carol. “Performance and The Gendered Body in Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ And Oonya Kempadoo’s Buxton Spice.” Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 10.2 (2010): 106-123. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 Sept. 2016
Becnel, Kim. “Literary Contexts in Short Stories Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl.” Literary Contexts in Short Stories: Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ (2007): 1. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
Falla, Kelly. “Theme Analysis of “Girl” by Jamaica Kinkaid.” 2011. Microsoft Word file.
Kincaid, Jamica. “Girl.” Portable Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed. Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell. 9th ed. Boston: 2015. 95-96. Print.
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