In “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, the short story a list of harsh instruction from mother to daughter. The instructions consist of how to do chores in particular ways, acceptable clothing to wear, behaving as a young lady should, cooking along with many other things. Many parents who are from out the country usually have an “old fashioned” way of describing how women should act and how they do typical things. For years in the past and in the present, mother-daughter relationships have consisted of mothers instructing their children on how to be an acceptable child. This causes the child to rebel or never want any part of the direction that is constantly enforced upon them. But in this story, it is more so the opposite. In the short story, a literary analysis suggests that women are to be domesticated and are to behave in a specific manor.
The mother goes on about how-to chores around the house, and the correct way to do them. “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the colored clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothes line to dry” (Kincaid 56). The mother instructs the daughter on how set a table for breakfast and how to sweep a corner, but she does not instruct her on how to apply for college or how to pick a career choice. The narrator tries to reinforce that a women’s place in the world is at home. Although, the daughter might aspire to do something else with her life, she does not rebel against her mother. She asks few questions, but she accepts what the mother is saying to her. Unlike most children today, the daughter does not rebel against her mother, she is submissive. She is expected to conform to her mother’s style of living.
Throughout the story, the daughter is passive when it comes to the instructions that are given to her. She is not allowed to have an opinion on how she should do certain things. “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread? you mean to say that after all you really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?” (Kincaid 58). Of course, the daughter will question most of the direction being given to her, and why it is so significant to act in the way her mother suggests, but she clearly does not disrespect her mother. This in fact shows how being taught the life of immigrants are not to rebel against their parents, and this is instilled into the children from a young age. In the story, the daughter could be building up resentment because she feels as if it is her decision on whether she wants to be a “housewife” or not but is not shown much through her actions. The mother continually enforces specific direction, but never stops to ask the daughters opinion.
In society, women are expected to act a certain way, which is expressed throughout the story. The mother continues to instruct the daughter on how she should dress, walk, and talk. “On Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming” (Kincaid 57) the way the mother comes off is harsh and emotionless, but she does not mean it in the way it might sound. This clear-cut part in the story implies that women are judged on the way they walk and describes their sexuality. This also reiterates that the way a women acts is very important because if they do not act according to others they will be judged. “This is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well” (Kincaid 57). At this point in the story, the mother is instructing the daughter on how she should act in front of a man, so that she can find an acceptable man. The theme emphasizes that a woman is expected in a question less manner.
Kincaid states, “this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man, and if this doesn’t work there are other ways , and if they don’t work don’t feel too bad about giving up; this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it”( Kincaid 57). Jamaica Kincaid address that there are different points about the roles a woman inherits in a society, certain relationships that need to be established, and things that can actually happen on a daily basis. When Kincaid says, “this is how you bully a man; this is how a man bullies you”, she is implying that there is a balance and it is needed between man and women, by giving the daughter the option to bully back when she is being bullied or treated in an unacceptable manner. That goes for everything in life, every action must have a reaction. Kincaid also mentions that if a relationship does not go as planned, she should not feel bad about it. She states that a woman has the freedom to do whatever that it is to ensure happiness. The final line of the quote implies that women are free to behave like men. Being that men have different privileges in society.
This story tells a story between a mother and a daughter, and the constant enforcement and pressure the girl is faced with when living day to day. In this story it is suggested that elder women feel that there is a right and wrong way to act as a woman. Kincaid suggests that the mother has complete control over her child, and this leaves the readers wondering if the daughter will ever choose to live her life the way she would life to. Being of full Caribbean descent (Guyanese and Panamanian), it is indoctrinated into us women that we are held to a higher expectation than most. Although in “Girl” the way the mother speaks to her child might come off as harsh, and some might say that is no way to speak to their child, it is in fact normal in families that immigrate from different places. The way a mother speaks to their child sculpts them to be thick-skinned in this cold society, especially women.