"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid


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In this story, a nameless speaker gives out many commands to a woman audience with things of what not to do and what to do. Although it is not made clear how many speakers are in the story, another girl seems to respond to some of the chores, which can be identified by italics. These chores or commands that are giving are such things as cooking certain foods, washing white clothes and how not to act like a slut. The list starts out with simpler, more innocent "do and dont's" such as not singing certain songs in Sunday School and then they slowly start to become more experienced as if the girl is growing older. As the story continues to progress, the speaker continues to give advice as if the girl she is talking to is her own child. Therefore, the reader can infer that the speaker must be talking to her daughter.

Key Symbols: 

There are a few symbols that really contribute to the allegorical meaning in "Girl." First, the clothing throughout the story represents the importance of respectability and overall appearance of the girl. The mother of the girl stresses that her appearance should not be "slutty," meaning she should always dress appropriately. Another very important symbol that subsidizes the allegorical meaning of "Girl" is the form of benna. Benna was used in certain cultures to express gossip by means of dancing and singing. Native American tribes were mostly participants of benna. In "Girl," benna symbolizes not only sexuality and sexual growth to the girl, but also represents sin to the mother. This reveals to the reader that the mother is very religious through her teachings and influences on the girl.

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Key Concepts/Themes:


The Mother

The main narrator in the story. She seems to think she is the only person who can save her daughter from entering a life of disrespect and becoming promiscuous. Unfortunately, the mother already seems to think the daughter has entered into these stages by the way she walks, sits, and sings. It seems as if the mother is very wise in certain areas: cooking, cleaning, performing social etiquette, and keeping a household. However, it also seems that the mother could have gone through all the same things that she remarks to the daughter by her knowledge in abortion-inducing elixirs. Nevertheless, the mother's comments and remarks seem to suggest that the community is highly dependent on gender roles which could bear a lot of weight onto both the mother and daughter (Sparknotes Editors).

The Daughter

The main protagonist in the story, who is mostly silent throughout it. The story of "Girl" is not an actual transcript of a word-by-word conversation between a mother and daughter, instead it is just a memory. The daughter seems to remember most of the harsh things the mother said to her, mostly promiscuous and disrespectful things, such as "slut" (Kincaid). The fact that she remembers these shows how much a mother's words can affect her daughter, which could lead the reader to believe that the daughter has been deeply affected and trouble for many years just by what was said to her by her mother (Sparknotes Editors).

Kincaid, Jamaica. "Girl." Literature for Composition. Eds. Sylvan Barnett, William Burto, and William E. Cain. Longman: New York

SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Girl.” SparkNotes LLC. 2007. Web. 13 Apr. 2011.