Girl

by: Jamaica Kincaid

The Mother

The mother sees herself as the only person who can save her daughter from living a life of disrespect and promiscuity. She believes the girl has already started down this path because of the way she walks, sits, and sings benna (Antiguan folksongs) during Sunday school, and she imparts her domestic knowledge to keep the girl respectable. In some ways, the mother is wise: not only does she know how to cook, clean, and keep a household, but she also has a keen sense of social etiquette and decorum, knowing how to act around different types of people. For her, domestic knowledge and knowing how to interact with people bring happiness along with respect from family and the larger community. Her instructions suggest that community plays a large role in Antiguans’ lives and that social standing within the community bears a great deal of weight.

Yet at the same time, there is bitterness in the mother’s voice, and she takes her anger and frustration out on her daughter. She seems to think that none of her wisdom will make any difference and that the girl is already destined for a life of ill repute. She even repeatedly hints that the girl wants to live promiscuously and be a “slut.” Her fears for the girl actually belie deeper fears of the precarious state of womanhood in traditional Antiguan society. Despite the mother’s caustic remarks and accusations, the fact that she knows how to make abortion-inducing elixirs implies that she has had some illicit relations with men or at least understands that such encounters sometimes occur.