Short Story Analysis

"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid

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Critical Biography

The author of the short story “Girl,” Elaine Potter Richardson, or better known as Jamaica Kincaid, was born in 1949 in Antigua. Being an only child, she had a very close relationship with her mother in her early childhood years. However, when her mother gave birth to three boys, it changed the mother-daughter relationship forever. Kincaid claims she felt neglected, and at the time it mattered very much to her. As she was going through this emotional crisis with her family, she started writing in her free time.


After turning 17, she moved to the United States; her family expected her to send them money, but she always refused. She started writing for magazines and later started writing short poems and stories. Elaine Potter Richardson had her name changed to Jamaica Kincaid to stay anonymous from her family; she feared they would mock her writing. Kincaid befriended William Shawn, an editor of the New Yorker; she claims he helped her find who she was. She then met Allen Shawn, whom she married, and the couple later had two kids.


As years of publishing went by, people were noticing the mother-daughter relationships in many of Kincaid’s stories. Years later, she wrote a book inspired by her brother, whom she found out after his death, was a secret homosexual all his life. Kincaid also wrote a book called Mr. Potter, with characters very similar to her family members growing up. Today, Kincaid still writes in her free time, as well as teaches creative writing in colleges including Harvard.

Summary

“Girl” is a simple story about a mother teaching her daughter to do things the way she believes women should do them. She teaches her how to cook, clean, and love a man; there is even a small phrase in the story that implies she is teaching the girl how to make a medicine that would give her a miscarriage if she were to have an unwanted pregnancy. The mother believes women should act a certain way, which is why she tells the girl she’s not allowed to do some things because of her gender. Although “Girl” is a very short read with no exposition, climax, or resolution, it is also very interesting.

Analysis of Theme

In the story “Girl,” the mother puts a lot of effort into teaching her daughter to be lady-like. In her opinion, being a lady is cooking, cleaning, loving a man, doing laundry, NOT being a slut, acting kind in public (whether they want to or not), etc. After calling her daughter a slut, it’s easy to see the mother as aggressive; because of this, the girl is seen as helpless and useless. Since the daughter is inferior to her mother, she must do everything the way her mother wants.


The mother is obviously very much influenced by gender roles. The story implies that the main girl is either in her pre-teens or early teens. The book Short Stories for Students explains how “the mother is preparing the girl to take her rightful place as a daughter and then a wife, and teaches her how to do the chores expected of a woman” (“Girl,” 86). It is possible the girl may find all the orders to be a bit extreme or ridiculous; she only has two quotes throughout the story defending herself.


The mother does not show any compassion or love for the girl at all in the entire story. She constantly either implies or simply tells her daughter that she is or will be a slut. The story does not state exactly why she treats her this way, but given enough thought, it can be figured out. Most likely, the reason she always calls her a slut is so that the girl will feel ashamed and want to not be a slut. Many people believe being a “slut” can emotionally hurt a woman, so the mother may be trying to protect the girl.


In conclusion, the overall theme is based on a mother-daughter relationship. The mother is rude, aggressive, and never shows any love towards the girl. The girl shows helplessness, and when she tries to defend herself, it doesn’t work. The mother is always calling the girl a slut and shames her to make her feel insecure and inferior.

Works Cited

“Girl.” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Vol. 7. Farmington Hills: The Gale Group, 2000. 86-87. Print.


"Jamaica Kincaid." YourDictionary, n.d. Web. 16 May 2016.


Kincaid, Jamaica. "Girl." 1983. PDF file.