Girl

by: Jamaica Kincaid

Symbols

Benna

Antiguan folksongs, or benna, symbolize sexuality, a subject the mother fears her daughter already knows too much about. Historically, native Antiguans sang benna to secretly spread scandalous rumors and gossip under the uncomprehending British people’s noses. Singing benna in Sunday school, therefore, represents not only disobedience but also sinful, forbidden knowledge that can’t be discussed openly in public, let alone in church. Even though the daughter may not consciously equate benna with sexuality as her mother does, her protestations nevertheless suggest she knows full well benna’s seductive power, mystique, and forbidden qualities. In fact, the girl’s adamant, almost desperate denials may even hint that she actually has sung benna in Sunday school with her friends, an indication of her blossoming interest in boys as well as a sign of an increasing exasperation with her mother’s advice and intrusions into her personal life.