Discussion of Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl"

  Post your answer in the comments below. Make sure to include the number of the question you're answering and either cut and paste the question or answer in complete sentences so that we know which question you're answering.


A-6, B-7, C-8, D-9, E-10, F-11, G-12, H-13, I-1, J-2, K-3, L-4, M-5

If you have further thoughts or questions about the story, please feel to also post these below. 

13 Questions To Ask of Every Story: 

1.          What makes this story “literary”? 

 

2.          Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

 

3.          Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

 

4.          Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

 

5.          Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

 

6.          Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

 

7.          Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

 

8.          Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

 

9.          Setting: How does the setting work within the story? What are the key places, and in how does the writer describe them?

 

10.      Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?

 

11.      Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

 

12.      What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it? 


13.    How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

Comments

  1. 10. Pick three of the best lines in the story. Why are they good lines?
    A. "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." I like this line because ( as far as I can tell) this is referring to birth control or something of the sorts. At first, I had no clue what this meant because it sounded a little random. But if I'm correct, Jamaica is talking about how to make your own birth control which I'm not sure if you can actually do.
    B. "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 a good line because it says that if you can't love someone no matter what you try, you don't have to make yourself love them.
    C. "but what if the baker won't let me feel the bread? you mean to say after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won't let near the bread?" This is a really good closing line because this felt like an instruction manual of how a woman should act told to us and are saying as long as you follow these instructions, a baker won't care if you feel the bread.
    -Michael

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    1. All the ones you've picked at the more meaningful ones. Do you think there's some connection between a line being "good" and it being meaningful?

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  2. 8. Point of view: Why do you think the writer chose this particular point of view for the story? How does the point of view function to establish distance or make us feel a certain way?

    The point of view in this piece is written in a way that it reads as a conversation between a mother and daughter even though there isn’t any dialogue. It is written in second person so it almost makes it seem like it is talking to the reader except for the few spots where the daughter responds in italics. I think the writer chose to have this point of view because they wanted it to seem more like a montage of motherly advice rather than a conversation. If it was written in the way dialogue is usually written I don’t think it would have the same effect.

    -Bailey

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    1. I love this as a choice. It is one of the only stories I can think of that is in second person, but it is so completely compelling in that POV.

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  3. Plot: What is the climax of this story? How does the moment irrevocably change everything?

    I think the climax for this piece is at the line, “this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child”. The source of the tension for this piece seems to be the resentment the speaker has this young woman supposedly being a slut, and this feels like the boiling over point. The speaker directly addresses what it is that has them so convinced that the young woman they speak to is a slut. Throwing that in her face changes everything from that point forward and illuminates what came before. Now we know why the speaker was so fixated on the young woman being the perfect mannered lady. According to the speaker, the young woman already has passed a point of shame, and has to stay on the straight and narrow to maintain any reputation. This also serves as a point of no return for their relationship. The speaker has named the source of their resentment, and that cannot be taken back.

    -Cassie

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    1. I completely agree. The tension implicit in that line is the peak of the story. I had never seen it the way you did before, as something she is saying AFTER the daughter has done something, but I love that interpretation.

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  4. 13. How is this story similar to others we've read? How is it different?

    To begin, the first sentence of this short story was unlike any we've read so far that I can recall---in that the first sentence is the whole story. Jamaica Kinkaid apparently sums up everything a girl needs to learn in life in a short list of rules. It was different in that the whole story seemed to be dialogue -- even though it wasn't punctuated as so. However, I would say that the 'dialogue' was similar to other stories that we've read where it hints and helps to sculpt the characters involved. This is seen in the continuing theme of the supposed mother bringing up how her girl is bent on becoming a slut. It really sets the tone of disapproval from the mother as well as hints at the rebelliousness/determination from the daughter. The characters are vague, but not without substance. This story was also different in that it didn't describe any characters, or setting really. But as the reader, I can infer that this is a mother talking to her daughter. I commend the author on being able to establish so much tension in this chosen style of writing.

    - Elizabeth Skenandore

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    1. Yes, the differences are really clear. I wonder if we could think of some similarities?

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  5. 12. What do you think the reader is supposed to take from the story? What can we, as writers, learn from studying it?

    As a reader, I believe we are suppose to realize that sometimes mothers don't portray the best advice or wisdom onto their children. Parents are often put on pedestals for being guardians and life-givers of their children, but sometimes that relationship can be harmful. The mother seems to be harboring some resentment—probably about herself—and pushing it onto her daughter. The mother offers her daughter advice about how not to be a "slut" and uses examples such as "not squatting while playing marbles." These are simple and everyday activities that should not be sexualized and the idea that they are pushed onto children. As a writer, the sentence structure is mind-blowing in a sense because it is done in so few sentences. The use of long sentences would seem exhausting, but I think the author had a good rhythm. She also used breaks with the daughter interjecting her own statements, and that gave readers a slight break. I do not think that it is a writing style that should be common, but it works in this sense.

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    1. Yeah, it's amazing how much tension and story Kincaid packs in here in so few lines.

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  6. 3. Why do you think this story was considered one of the best / most iconic stories at the time of its publication? What made it a “successful” story?

    I feel like it is an iconic story because it is focusing on the female experience, and the pressures that come from being a woman. The story seems to be written as if a mother is talking to their child, and at one point in our lives we've had an experience with a parent or guardian instructing us how to behave. I feel that it is successful because it is based off of an experience that many people have encountered at least once in their lives. As the title implies this story is what is to be expected of a girl, and with how it's written makes all the demands seems unreasonable and overwhelming. Even today everyone on the gender spectrum can feel overwhelmed by the expectations of their gender roles, and that is why people connected with this story.

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    1. I agree about its relatability. It is also so creatively done that it feels memorable.

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  7. Character: In what ways does the character drive the action of the story?

    The character is explored through purely the dialogue expounded; the stylistic choice gives character in a different but equally revealing way. Both characters in this story are primarily explored through the parent/guardian of the narrative, while the other character in question is the child/tutee. The way that the lessons begin to stack on one another gives it this semblance of experience and urgency, while still giving a more than a teaspoon of life advice to this child. In the manner that the advice is spilt, backed by wisdom and through a stern tone cultivated by life, it provides intrigue and interesting development to both the story characters as well as the author's own background and story.

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    1. Yes--I like what you say here about how the advice stacks. There's added tension as she just keeps adding on more and more.

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  8. Do a little bit of research on this author. Is this story a good example of his/her work? Is there anything else you learned that could add to our understanding of the story?

    Based on the other stories of Jamaica Kincaid read/ listened to, “Girl” perfectly exemplifies her other works. What I really liked about this story was the non traditional format it is written in, just a list of how to do things with sparse dialogue. Kincaid seems to enjoy telling stories in experimental formats. One story she wrote was written as a ledger of a party she went to hosted by a person she hated, where the dress of host’s wife cost more than all the reporter’s outfits combined. Another story was closer to what a reader would expect from prose, where a character describes what is going on around them, but is frenetically shifting from past to present then future in the same sentence. I admire Kincaid’s ability to write in such unique ways while managing to tell complete and cohesive stories.

    The themes of this story also match Kincaid’s other works. She is a black woman born in Antigua at a time it was still under British rule. She writes about colonialism, racism, classism and sexism, and all of these are present in “Girl”. Another big theme for Kincaid is mother/daughter relationships, which is informed my her own experience. She describes her mom as cruel and uncaring as she was too busy taking care of Kincaid’s younger siblings. Despite Kincaid doing well in school, her mother pulled her out to make her work as a servant to help support the family. Kincaid rebelled by not sending any money home. You can see how this story could be an actual conversation between her and her mother. The mother is training her to be a good servant and proper woman. The story is about the boxes the family tries to put you in. Even when they don’t mean to. The mom wants the girl to be proper, but keeps insisting she is a slut and tells her how to make birth control and, essentially, a Plan B pill. So the mom is shaping the girl into what she doesn’t want her to be as well. The story does a good job of showing the effects of our upbringings.

    -Logan Ostler

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    1. Nice job on the research here. It's interesting to see how our knowledge of Kincaid's personal life can color or view of the story. It makes it feel more personal.

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  9. 2. Why is this story considered one of the best stories of the past hundred years? If it’s an old story, why has it endured?

    A: I think this story has endured because it conveys so much through so little. This story is, at it's most basic, a list of do's and don'ts. However, through this list we see the full scope of the narrative being portrayed. I thought this was a really intriguing way to get to the heart of the story; we learn so much about the main character's inner conflict, her relationship with her mother, her behaviors, etc.

    -Alec

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    1. Agreed. It packs so much in, but the gut is there. We somehow get a full sense of an arc in just these few sentences.

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  10. 4. Plot: What is the “rich ground situation” (conflict) of the story? What happens to complicate this ground situation?

    The conversation between mother and daughter in “Girl” consists of both helpful and disadvantageous advice. The conversation is one-sided, as the daughter only has a few opportunities to share her thoughts with readers—the mother’s string of guidelines is continuous, and she doesn’t give her daughter time to tell her what she thinks. For example, the mother tells her daughter not to sing benna in Sunday school. Following this, in one of the few glimpses into the daughter’s thoughts, the daughter says, “But I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school.” The mother means well; however, she’s overbearing and doesn’t consider her daughter when saying any of it.

    While the mother gives her daughter good advice regarding how she should cook, clean, and wash, she also accuses her of being a slut and provides her directives to correct this, such as walking like a lady and how to behave in a man’s presence. Her mother tells her not to squat to play marbles. “You are not a boy,” she says. The mother teaches her daughter how to live up to women’s limited role in society, for she even prohibits her daughter from playing with boys. She is imposing an unhealthy self-perception onto the girl, and the girl doesn’t get a chance to tell her mother how she feels.

    -Sam W.

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    1. Yes, and what makes it a rich ground situation is that we can feel the tension underneath all of this advice--the conflict is there, and getting more and more complex as we go along.

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  11. 6. Character: In what ways does the writer show character?

    There are a variety of different ways that one might have dealt with character. Especially considering that the woman. The ideas of the morals that the character wanted, but also there was something it was a mother talking to her daughter. "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" This quote was one that I felt was very well, especially since it's the harshness of the mother, but also how she feels slighted. Ending up creating character in a way that is beautiful but also deadly, and trying to live through her daughter.

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    1. This is a classic example of how to show character through dialogue (or in this case, monologue). We can pick up so much about this woman's character by how she speaks to her daughter.

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