The Suffocating Good-Old Days Revealed in Girl
Jamaica Kincaid’s story "Girl" allows readers a glimpse into the strict, demanding manner in which parents reared their children almost twenty years ago. Through Kincaid’s careful structuring of "Girl," readers capture the commanding tone of the story. The relationship between the mother and the girl also reeks of empowerment and distance, as best seen through the girl’s short-lived speech in the story. Most important, "Girl" shows readers how particular the lessons taught to the children two decades ago were.
The mother in "Girl" expects a great deal of her daughter, and she does not hesitate to let the girl know it. The fact that the two-page-story is entirely one sentence – and almost all of that emanating from the mother – gives off a powerful message: the mother demands a lot of her daughter. From the very beginning, the mother commands her daughter to perform tasks. Kincaid writes that the mother dictates "Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap" (1190). The mother’s reluctance to speak gently or even use the word "please" strongly suggests that the mother is in full and overwhelming control of her daughter.
With strict instructions such as the mother’s to her daughter, it is easy to see that the daughter is intimidated by her mother. Kincaid’s sentence structure again demonstrates the meekness of the girl whose thoughts and questions are represented a mere two times in the story. The first phrase the girl mutters represents the distance in the relationship between the girl and the mother, as the girl interrupts her mother with "but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school" (1190). The mother, however, continues with her lecture. Jacqueline Austin views this relationship as very mechanical. Austin points out that the conversation between the mother and daughter was almost "in a rhythm so strong it seemed to be hypnosis, aimed at magically chanting out bits of the subconscious" (250). The girl’s comment is truly evidence of the mother’s expectation that her daughter be quiet and listen to the lecture, regardless of whether the girl knows the lessons already. Because the conversation between the mother and daughter is one-sided, it can be concluded that the entire relationship between the two is the same.
Undoubtedly, Kincaid’s most startling insight in "Girl" is the tremendous amount of detailed information the girl is being told. From proper table-setting to correct cooking methods to "womanly" walking, the girl’s lessons are many and extremely precise. As critic Wendy Dutton proclaims, "The reader gets the impression that the story is about a girl...