Summary of Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl

Girl is a short story written by Jamaica Kincaid.

The setting of Kincaid’s story ‘Girl’ is most likely the Caribbean island of Antigua. The story focuses on a mother- daughter relationship. The mother here is a dominant figure in the young girl’s upbringing. Throughout the story, the mother informs the young girl of various duties associated with being female.

The girl’s duties as a female involve responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning as well as instructions on proper social behavior. For example the young girl is instructed “don’t sing benna (popular music) on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school”. Interestingly, Kincaid emphasizes that the young girl is not only responsible for learning and maintaining a domestic ritual in general, but the young girl must also cater to the needs of men. For example the girl is taught iron her father’s clothes but it can be inferred that no one other than herself is responsible for ironing the girl’s clothes. In fact men appear only outside of their home throughout the story which implies that home is only the space for women.

Continuing on that theme, the girl is taught that the length of time she spends with men and how she behaves around men will affect how others perceive her. For example, the girl is instructed “you must not speak to wharf rat boys not even to give directions” and “don’t squat down to play marbles-you are not a boy”.

However towards the end of the story it appears that the girl not only learns from what she is told but also from what she sees. For example, she is not told but learns that “this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you…” This is significant because throughout the story it appears that the mother is bullying the young girl, this shift allows the reader to realize that the mother is part of a larger system and the mother herself is bullied at times; therefore, the mother character can be viewed as both a perpetrator and one affected by social gendering.

At the end of the story, the mother teaches the young girl that she should always squeeze the bread to make sure its fresh

“The girl responds” but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?” the mother, in disbelief after all her lecturing, asks “you mean to say that after all you are the woman the baker won’t let near the bread?” while this conversation adds a touch of humor to the story, the scene illustrates the way that the mother expects the girl to define her own identity within the gender system. Ultimately, it is up to the girl to determine what sort of woman she will be and whether or not she will be worthy to ‘feel the bread’.

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