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Girl

Jamaica Kincaid

Plot Overview

Context

Character List

“Girl” consists of a single sentence of advice a mother imparts to her daughter, only twice interrupted by the girl to ask a question or defend herself. She intends the advice to both help her daughter and scold her at the same time. Kincaid uses semicolons to separate the admonishments and words of wisdom but often repeats herself, especially to warn her daughter against becoming a “slut.” Besides these repetitions, “Girl” doesn’t move forward chronologically: there is no beginning, middle, or end to the stream.

The mother dispenses much practical and helpful advice that will help her daughter keep a house of her own some day. She tells her daughter how to do such household chores as laundry, sewing, ironing, cooking, setting the table, sweeping, and washing. The mother also tells the girl how to do other things she’ll need to know about, including how to make herbal medicines and catch a fish. These words of wisdom suggest that the women live in a poor, rural setting, where passing on such advice is essential for daily living.

Alongside practical advice, the mother also instructs her daughter on how to live a fulfilling life. She offers sympathy, such as when she talks about the relationships her daughter will one day have with men, warning that men and women sometimes “bully” each other. She also says that there are many kinds of relationships and some never work out. The mother also tells the girl how to behave in different situations, including how to talk with people she doesn’t like.

Often, however, the mother’s advice seems caustic and castigating, out of fear that her daughter is already well on her way to becoming a “slut.” She tells the girl, for example, not to squat while playing marbles, not to sing any Antiguan folk songs in Sunday school, and to always walk like a lady. The girl periodically interjects to protest her innocence.

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