Story Analysis of ‘Girl’ by Jamaica Kincaid

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It’s Day 2 of the #A2ZChallenge. This year, I invite you to read and discuss short stories with me. Each day, I will bring you a ‘Read of the Day,’ a short story in English, so that we can indulge in the joy of reading. You can visit my site daily for a short story with analysis and participate in the discussion in the comments.

Read of the Day 

Today, we will read Girl by Jamaica Kincaid. Because of its writing style, it’s called a 650 word sentence. 

You can read the short story online here.

About the Author 

Jamaica Kincaid was born Elaine Potter Richardson in Antigua. She escaped from her family and country at the age of seventeen and rechristened herself.  Jamaica worked in New York City as an au pair for an upper-class family. Later, she became one of the regular contributors to the New Yorker magazine (where also she met her editor husband,) writing for it for nearly two decades. 

Story Analysis 

Last night, I came across a post on Instagram by a publishing house that decried the use of purple prose in fiction. While I understood where the line of thought came from, I beg to differ. Purple prose is fine if you don’t lose grip on either the plot or message. 

Personally, I love both prose and poetry. I’ve made an amateur attempt at poetic prose in some stories in my debut fiction ‘Bhumi.’ The beginning and end of ‘Grey’ and ‘The Tale of Two Women’ in the collection of short stories. to name a few. I dig the idea of marrying the two forms as long as one doesn’t meander from the plot or the message. 

Girl by Jamaica Kincaid breaks all rules in prose and poetry, and it’s a winner all the way. Call it a poetic prose or prose poem, and you’re right whichever way you look at it!  

Unlike fiction stories, there is no beginning, middle, or end in this short story. It doesn’t follow any structure or rhyme rules of poetry. But that’s irrelevant because the author has a tight grip on the message.

It’s a straightforward and relatable story, especially for women in the lesser developed parts of the world. Whichever strata of Indian society you hail from, the chances are that as an Indian woman, you would have been conditioned similarly to the ‘Girl’ in the story. There’s no denying that misogyny exists in the developed countries as well. But like corruption, it is veiled, unlike their lesser developed counterparts, where misogyny stares straight in your face. 

The story is a lengthy ‘do and don’ts’ list for the girl child. It unravels the anxieties of a mother of her girl’s growing body and sexuality. She instructs her daughter on the art of being a domestic goddess to gain acceptance and respect in society.

The only progressive part in the story is when the mother tells her daughter it’s okay to give up on a broken relationship despite all efforts to make it work. Barring that, the rest of the story is a grim reminder of how girls and women are conditioned to restrict themselves to fit in society’s norms. The mother fears her daughter may choose to follow otherwise, i.e., the path of a slut. 

Often, we hear this statement – “Men cannot get pregnant. Girls and women can.” 

Those words are enough to instill fear among young girls and slutshame women who explore their sexuality like men. A girl’s virginity ought to be guarded at all costs lest she brings shame upon the family and sets a bad example in society. A man’s sexuality, on the other hand, is unquestioned and permitted as per the societal norms.  A lot of focus is placed on tradition and the conventional outlook on gender. There is also a lot of emphasis on the concept of purity and virginity, where the mother goes to the bizarre extent of instructing her daughter to clean herself daily, even if it means in her own spit. 

In many ways, the mother is an agent of patriarchy as she thrusts upon her daughter the black and white idea of a woman – the good woman who deserves respect and the slut who deserves shame. Being a good woman is to embrace a life of domesticity and not be like men. The latter means staying within the four walls of the home, seeking permission for every decision, dressing modestly, limiting social interactions with men, and other inane restrictions. 

In this story, Jamaica Kincaid shares her lived experiences as she faced discrimination in her own home. The story is still relevant in many parts of the world where the girl child is unwanted, and at best, tolerated if she falls in compliance to societal norms. 

What are your thoughts on Girl by Jamaica Kincaid?

*I’m participating in the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge.

8 comments

  1. Tina, what a powerful piece of writing! Jamaica Kincaid has created a masterpiece in words, defining the constricted life of a young woman bound by the shackles of society. I look forward to reading more of your posts in this challenge. All the best!

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  2. That’s a powerful piece of writing and thank you for sharing the link to the original one. I loved your thoughts that explained the concept. Looking forward to reading more such unique posts from you which otherwise I wouldn’t have known.

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  3. I hadn’t read the works of Jamaica Kincaid so thank you for introducing me to her writings. The whole idea that women need protection is probably what shackles women in the first place. We need to be human’s first.

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  4. What a thought provoking story it is! Thank you for sharing the link. Women, limited by patriarchy, grooming their daughters for a restricted life they can foresee for them. Powerful story and post.

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