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Analysis of “girl” Written by Jamaica Kincaid

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How To Be a Woman

“Girl” written by Jamaica Kincaid is a mother’s advice to her daughter on how to be the “perfect” woman by their culture’s standards. This short story is written as a list of “how-tos” and “what to dos” as told by a mother to her daughter. The entire piece is written without a single period. Each piece of separate advice is separated by only semi colons making the reader get the sense that the mother rambling on and on with her motherly advice to her young daughter. The mother gives advice on everything from how to be a good domestic woman to how to act like a man. Kincaid uses powerful oxymoron throughout this piece to convey three underlying themes that sometimes starkly contrast each other: sexism, feminism, and power.

The overall tone of this piece has a sense of sexism and oppression of women upon just reading through it the first time. “Don’t squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know” (Kincaid 163). The mother implies that only boys can squat on the ground, and that girls cannot because it is not “ladylike”. This is a form of sexist socialization that women have been taught to believe that is sexist by today’s standards. The mother is adamant on making sure her daughter knows her absolute disdain of becoming a slut with advice like, “On Sundays try to walk like a lady and not the slut you are so bent on becoming”. (Kincaid 163). The only piece of advice that is given three times in this story is “how to not be a slut”. Readers can assume that the daughter is a teenager going through typical teenage girl behavior by possibly trying to act more “grown up” and dress more provocatively by the way the mother scolds her on the “slut [she] is so bent on becoming”. (Kincaid 163). The use of the word “slut” by Kincaid in this piece to convey how the mother describes her daughter is appalling and can be described as “slut shaming”. The idea that that women have a certain place in society, and that women cannot be like men is clearly shown through the bits of advice given to the daughter by the mother.

Although the main theme of “Girl” seems to be sexist towards women, Kincaid has masterfully hidden an underlying theme of strong feminism in between the lines of the text. The mother tells her daughter “how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child”. (Kincaid 163). Kincaid is referring to abortion. After all the advice the mother has given the daughter on how to be a good subservient woman to a man, this advice starkly contrasts the subservient attitude. The mother is teaching her daughter that only she has control of her own body, and she can do as she please with it. Another piece of instruction that the mother gives the daughter is “how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn’t fall on you”. (Kincaid 163).

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