Jamaica Kincaid’s story “Girl” provides a brief glimpse on the demanding and strict parenting style, used by Caribbean people only twenty years ago. The short story is composed of a series of instructions and prescriptions and obviously it lacks encouragement and empowerment and points to the considerable distance between the daughter and the mother. Structurally, the story consists of one long sentence, from which one can derive a conclusion that the list of expectations the mother has concerning her child is quite long.
Apparently, the mothers either holds or pretends to hold a high degree of control and authority over the protagonist. In order to strengthen the sense of control, the mother uses three destructive compliance-gaining techniques: intimidation, ostensibly “friendly” advice and detailed instructions, which indicate that the girl is treated as inferior and not enough bright trainee. The present paper provides a list and summaries of resources, which will be useful in developing this argument. Bouson, J. Jamaica Kincaid: Writing Memory, Writing Back to the Mother.
SUNY Press, 2005.
The book by Bouson is a comprehensive and interesting journey into Kincaid’s life. The central theme of her writings is the writer’s relationships with her traditionalist mother, as well as unexpressed offence, resentment and gratitude. All her literary works are autobiographical; moreover, as Kincaid herself states, her story is told by her mother, as she sees the world mainly through the lens of her parent’s outlook. Back in the early childhood, Kincaid developed a view that the domestic life is a measure of all other events so that everything can be reduced to the quarrel in the kitchen.
In “Girl”, the loss of privacy in domesticity is implied, so the short might reflect the author’s own fears, beyond the real episodes from her life. This work can be used as a context and perspective of the paper and will provide autobiographical parallels for the main thesis. Sheehan, T. “Caribbean Impossibility: The Lack of Jamaica Kincaid”. In Jamaica Kincaid and Caribbean Double Crossings, edited by Linda Lang-Peralta, University of Delaware Press, 2006. 79-95. This essay focuses on the motifs of emptiness and lack in Kincaid’s fiction.
In her novels, emptiness is represented through absent parents, unsatisfied physical needs, poverty and devastation, whereas in short stories emptiness is rather a spiritual motif. In “Girl”, although the protagonist of the literary work is a teenage girl, an addressee of maternal instructions, her presence is almost unnoticeable. The girl tends to keep silence, listening to her mother’s monologue and there are only few words she says to specify what her parent actually means. Therefore, it seems like her mothers is talking to a mannequin.
The picture the reader can imagine shows the girl mechanically obeying to all orders and carrying out all the duties with empty mind. The book chapter by Sheehan is to great extent useful in explaining and elucidating the third point of the argument, or mother’s third compliance-gaining strategy of treating her daughter like a “dull girl”. Edwards, J. Understanding Jamaica Kincaid: At the bottom of the river. Early novels: Annie John and Lucy. Nonfiction: A small place and My brother. Recent novels: Autobiography of my mother and Mr. Potter.
University of South Carolina Press, 2007. The author of the book conducts an in-depth analysis of Kincaid’s literary works including “Girl”. The author examines the role of language in the short story and argues that the mother’s main intention is maintaining control over the child through “practical recommendations”. All instructions sound allegedly helpful, but the metaphors and hints the woman is using reveal that apart from her love and caring attitude towards her child, one can also notice the desire to compel the girl to imitate her even in the slightest gestures.
In fact, mother is growing a “revised” copy of herself and warns the girl against the mistakes she actually made. Therefore, in terms of the lexicon the mother is employing, she gradually moves from nurturing to a direct attack on the protagonist. This book allows covering and properly addressing the woman’s second strategy of obedience-gaining, which is “friendly advice”, and showing how this friendliness is being transformed into intimidation. Phelps, D. “Jamaica Kincaid”. In Multicultural Writers Since 1945: An A-to-Z Guide, edited by Alba della Fazia Amoia, Alba Amoia and Bettina Knapp.
Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004. 289-292. The author addresses multicultural themes in Kincaid’s writings and states that the writer consistently writes from the perspective of “colonial family”, where parents treated their children as submissive family units. In “Girl”, this colonialism is quite obvious, given that the controlling mother is building her psychological “domain” in the daughter, fully seizing and subjugating the latter’s outlook. Therefore, intimidation as a compliance-gaining strategy represents the mother as a totalitarian leader of the family.
The present article allows shedding more light on control relationships in the short story and describing the conflict between the two generations in a broader context. As one can conclude, the works included in the bibliography will provide enough background information as well as analysis and critique, vital in explaining the nature of control relationship between the parent and the child from different angles of view. Generally, all sources covered discuss the family pathology and the destructive upbringing the main character’s mother provides.