Poem Explication

Project by Julia Rosenthal

Girls by Jamaica Kincaid

Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don't walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn't have gum on it, because that way it won't hold up well after a wash; soak salt fish overnight before you cook it; is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?; always eat your food in such a way that it won't turn someone else's stomach; on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming; don't sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn't speak to wharf–rat boys, not even to give directions; don't eat fruits on the street—flies will follow you; but I don't sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school; this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a button–hole for the button you have just sewed on; this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming; this is how you iron your father's khaki shirt so that it doesn't have a crease; this is how you iron your father's khaki pants so that they don't have a crease; this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants; when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don't like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don't like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely; this is how you set a table for tea; this is how you set a table for dinner; this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest; this is how you set a table for lunch; this is how you set a table for breakfast; this is how to behave in the presence of men who don't know you very well, and this way they won't recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming; be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit; don't squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know; don't pick people's flowers—you might catch something; don't throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all; this is how to make a bread pudding; this is how to make doukona; this is how to make pepper pot; this is how to make a good medicine for a cold; this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child; this is how to catch a fish; this is how to throw back a fish you don't like, and that way something bad won't fall on you; this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; this is how to love a man; and if this doesn't work there are other ways, and if they don't work don't feel too bad about giving up; this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn't fall on you; this is how to make ends meet; always squeeze bread to make sure it's fresh; but what if the baker won't let mefeel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won't let near the bread?

Jamaica Kincaid

-Born on May 25, 1949 in St. John's, Antigua

-Went to Franconia College

-Married, but then later divorced, to composer and professor Allen Shawn

-Has two children, Harold and Annie

-Wrote for a girls magazine and was first published in 1973

-Became an editor for The New Yorker in 1976

-Many of her writings use the theme of class, power, gender, and relationships

Brief Explication

I believe this is a narrative poem about a mother, possibly on her deathbed, giving her teenage daughter instructions on how to be the strongest and best woman that she can become. Some of it is basic house instruction, how to cook and clean, some is personal, and others is about relationships and behaviors. The speaker respects and loves her daughter, but wants to look out for her because she is a reflection of herself. This poem is free form because there is no rhyme or specific pattern. There are times of hope and happiness and other times of worry and concern. There are no periods, only semicolons because this is an ongoing list of instruction for her daughter and she wants there to be little or no interruption. The diction is very casual because she feels comfortable around the audience. There are a few references to the author’s background, being from Antigua. There is also some imagery when she describes certain situations or specific instructions on how to cook or sew something a certain way.

Citations

"Jamaica Kincaid." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.

"VirtuaLit Fiction: Girl." VirtuaLit Fiction: Girl. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.