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“What I Have Been Doing Lately” by Jamaica Kincaid Essay

The short story “What I Have Been Doing Lately” by Jamaica Kincaid, is told from within the dream of a young girl. She encounters many conflicts throughout her dream stemming from personal problems. The story is written in a circular structure that continues without resolution since her troubles are never resolved. The story makes use of small, choppy sentences which help the reader follow the quick, fast-paced actions happening during the dream. The non-traditional circular structure helps show the adolescent girls ongoing problems within herself which are in no way resolved.

The young girl’s internal conflicts are encountered mainly near the end of the story. The reader never quite knows what exactly she struggles with, which helps add to the mystery of the story. At the end of the story she laments, “I felt so sad I couldn’t imagine feeling any other way. I said, I don’t like this. I don’t want to do this anymore.” The reader sees that the girl’s problems are never-ending. Every time the doorbell rings her inner problems reappear. Not only is she struggling with interior problems but she faces many external problems within her dreams.

At the beginning of the story she complains “I wanted to get across it but I couldn’t swim”. Another outer conflict is in her second dream. The girl and the monkey start throwing stones at each other, resulting in her explaining that “the stone struck me on my forehead over my right eye, making a deep gash.” The external and internal conflicts culminate to drive the narrative forward, keeping the reader interested and reading more.

The structure of the story is unlike many typical stories. Kincaid uses a circular structure which begins and ends at the same place, with the narrator in bed, just before the doorbell rings. The plot covers the same material twice, first when the recounted events apparently happen to the narrator, and then when she answers the woman who asks her what it is she has been doing lately. The circular structure continues incessantly, which prevents the conflict from ever being resolved.

The circular structure is also accompanied by quick, little sentences throughout the story. The story begins with: “I ran downstairs. Quick. I opened the door”. This style creates the pace of the entire story. The unique sentence structure gives the reader a sense of the narrator’s urgency to tell everyone before she forgets. The short sentences help intensify the quick, fast-paced story. The tone of the story is apathetic; instead, her language reflects indifference from the bizarre events which she tells in an effortless, reportorial fashion. One example is when she retells her encounter with the monkey and says, “The gash healed immediately but now the skin on my forehead feels false to me.” This sentence shows that pain does not faze her, and she continues with the story. With its short, choppy sentences and an unconcerned tone, the story exhibits a childlike quality.

The story “What I Have Been Doing Lately” also emphasizes the word “I” repeatedly. It uses the young girl’s point of view, which keeps the main focus of the story on her. The reader is not able to see outsiders’ views as to what is happening in her dream. The “I”-centered, first-person narrative keeps the reader at a distance from the outside world; this allows the reader to only see inside the narrator’s mind. The reader learns the girl’s private opinions throughout her dream, such as when the woman asks her what she has been doing lately and the girl contemplates a series of answers she could give.

During the story of “What I Have Been Doing Lately” Kincaid uses conflicts external and internal to add suspense to the plot. She also uses circular structure to show that the girl’s problems are never resolved. In addition, Kincaid uses tone and pace to help the reader know the mind of the girl as she travels throughout her dream. The distinctive circular structure shows the adolescent girls constant problems within herself which are by no means ever resolved.


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