Girl by Jamaica Kincaid
Have you ever wished that your mother would give you step by step directives? How about instruct you on the way to live? Well, Jamaica Kincaid gives a short depiction of a mothers’ guidance in her short story entitled “Girl”. This story takes place in the 1900s where women are subservient to the male figure. Isn’t is strange though how women have deviated from the instructions of the mother in today’s time? However, the instructions of the mother demonstrate the affect society can have on a culture.
In this story, we have a narrator whose mother was a homemaker which is “someone who manages a home and family instead of earning money from employment” according to https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/homemaker. Therefore, as we begin to read this story, we must understand that we are reading from the perspective of a little girl reminiscing on her childhood as she was sent away to the United States at the age of 16. The story begins with the mother saying, “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap” (127). White signifies cleanliness and purity. During that statement, the mother is indicating that a woman should always be clean everyday as washing on Mondays can signify the beginning of a new week or a freshness or fresh beginning. I also believe that when the mother states to wash the “white” clothes first, it sets the under tone for the entire story- don’t become a slut.
As we continue to read the story, the mother tells the daughter “when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse (cover herself up), be sure that it doesn’t have gum on it, because that way it won’t hold up well after a wash” (128); and “on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming”, those very words show the time era that our narrator is being raised in. Back in the 1900s, women were to appear clean and holy women who either were married and raising their families or working as a maid (www.historylearningsite.co). Even in biblical days, women that were perceived as a slut/whore (Rahab-Joshua 2- Holy Bible) often were looked down upon. Therefore, when the mother begins to give strict instructions on how to carry herself it may seem to be the correct thing to do as it appeared to the mother that the daughter was becoming promiscuous in the way that she walked. Also, possibly by the girl talking back when the mother told her “don’t sing benna in Sunday school” (128). The girl’s response “but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school” (128) appears as she could have been getting smart which made the mother continue to give her strict instructions. The mother even went as far to tell her “don’t eat fruits on the street- flies will follow you” (128); indicating that flies will follow anything perceived as unclean which in retrospect states that if she doesn’t obey the instructions given by her mother, she could become a slut.
During this short story, the narrator gives a worldwide view that women are taught to serve their homes. Women must learn how to set the table, iron, and cook basically learn how to do housework to take care of their families while the man works. I believe that the narrator values the instructions that her mother gives her as she only speaks openly twice in the story. It’s as if she is taking everything in. She values the directives given to her, as her mother is preparing her for marriage and to be a “good” girl. It was important to be a good girl because don’t become sluts and they are respected in life. For example, at the end of the story the mother states “you 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?” (129). That statement alone shows that the mother believes that if she is a good girl then nothing would be held back from her daughter.
In conclusion, this short story shows a mother who was concerned about her daughter’s life. She obviously didn’t want her daughter to experience the same life she lived in poverty. She gave her directives on what she must do to take care of her home, how to be a good girl and how not to become a slut. However, I find it very interesting that even though she gave those directives back in the 1900s, the “Girl” still experienced a divorce in 2002 which means that maybe her instructions were for the time era back then. Women today still take care of their homes as in the short story but also have the responsibilities of paying the bills. What a difference can transpire in the shift of a culture.