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Girl Jamaica Kincaid - Essay Example

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Summary
This is the "Girl" Jamaica Kincaid. It is a rare opportunity that we get to observe the same reality so vividly through the lens of other people’s cultures. …
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Extract of sample "Girl Jamaica Kincaid"

Download file to see previous pages In this "Girl" Jamaica Kincaid Essay, the reader will delve deep into the subtle meanings of words and actions mainly performed by a mother onto her daughter. To the reader, her words and views will inevitably be seen as abusive, outdated, and even primitive, but for a more inclusive observer, the mother’s perspective gives a valuable window into a non-European civilization. One that raises important questions such as:  
  • What gives rise to a specific kind of culture?
  • If we meddle with people’s culture, do we also meddle with people’s genetic reality?
  • What is the metric by which we gauge someone’s culture? Can such a metric even exist if a culture arises from biological reality?
  • Is there a line between abuse and instilling traditional cultural values?
  • Does femininity, as an expression of human sexual dimorphism, must align with sexual chastity in order for culture to remain stable?
  • Does it matter in which way cultural values are instilled, as long as they take hold?
  To some of these questions, we may never come to a satisfactory conclusion. Nonetheless, the “Girl” story gives us a path of exploration, which holds a value of its own. Spoken through the narration of the mother, “Girl” is a shorty story authored by Jamaica Kincaid. The mother speaks to her girl, effectively portraying their relationship to the reader. The mother reveals all her hopes and expectations she has for her daughter, down to everyday minutia. By controlling her every behavior and leisure time expenditure, we get to experience the world perceived by a mother who strives to have everything in control. Although a short story, “Girl” is heavily laden with symbolism. One of the first symbols presented to the reader is the color white, as the traditional representation of sexual purity, chastity, and innocence. Not satisfied with her daughter’s appearance, which she directed, the mother doesn’t shy away from making her know her displeasure, “on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you so bent on becoming” (380). As her daughter enters the turbulent stage of puberty, her mother is growing more concerned with her sexuality and how it will be seen by others. Perhaps based on her own experience, she doesn’t want to see her mistakes repeated on her daughter. However, in no uncertain terms, we get the impression that the mother is not behaving motherly. Her brutal tone and attitude are made clear throughout the short story. One could immediately sense that this grown woman never read a single book on raising children. Some of her interaction with her daughter is in the form of direct insults, and some are disguised as symbolism. This is apparent with the symbolism of eating fruit in the public space, “don’t eat fruit on the street – flies will follow you” (380). In every culture, flies signify uncleanliness, so when someone is surrounded by flies, their dirty nature is transferred to the person. On the other hand, the fruit she is eating represents her sexuality. This way, she is trying to convey to her girl that her sexuality should never be openly displayed, or otherwise risk being seen as promiscuous. As if she is projecting her own history and nature, the mother is seemingly obsessed with the notion of her girl becoming promiscuous and seen as a slut. As such, she will lose all respect a society can offer, and ruin her life. As no father is mentioned in the story, we can conclude that the mother is retelling her own story of poor life decisions. Therefore, in her own harsh manner, the mother is trying to make her daughter become respectable. However, in the mind of the mother, the path to achieving this respectability mainly goes through appearances. This is why she repeatedly emphasizes the point to her daughter on proper clothing and how she should maintain its cleanliness, “when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum on it, because that way it won’t hold up after a wash” (380). All her advice for her daughter amounts to preventing her from becoming a slut, or at least, perceived as a slut by society. Clothing is the main vehicle for this message in the short story. Every person develops its personality from its genetic lineage and environment. As we move along the short story, we get an inkling to mother’s background from her use of the word “Benna”, which is a folk genre of music on many Caribbean islands. For European descendants, this gives valuable insight into the framework of social mores. In light of this, the mother’s behavior seems less harsh and more natural. More importantly, the utterance of the word “benna” is the first instance in which the mother is not the only speaker, “I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday School” (380). With this sentence, the daughter implies that her mother doesn’t know everything when it comes to achieving respectability. The Calypso music may have been acceptable when her mother was growing up, but it seems this is no longer the case. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been frowned upon and removed from church services. In such cultures, the institution of the Christian church is the highest source of respectability. As the short story gives the reader a layer of immersion into the Caribbean culture via music and the frequent mentioning of food, we begin to understand that the mother is not only trying to instill in her daughter a defense from becoming a slut, but also a sense of belonging through the preservation of tradition. Therefore, she spends some time teaching her daughter how to make traditional dishes, “this is how to make bread pudding, this is how to make doukona, this is how to make pepper pot” (381). Being able to prepare food, primarily bread, for the family is another layer of respectability that the mother is trying to imbue in her daughter. The reader may notice that she instructs her on the proper ways of cooking multiple times throughout the short story. Clearly, the mother sees the food preparation craft as the mainstay of their culture, one that brings value to traditional women. In this regard, as ethnography and anthropology tell us, the mother is absolutely right. Food preparation indeed serves the function of creating a bond within the family. However, even in cooking bread, the mother continues her efforts of making sure her daughter doesn’t become a slut. The following symbolism of squeezing the bread is made to be suggestive to her daughter as to the proper behavior around men, “always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh; but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread” (381). Clearly, the mother is again imparting a message to her girl that there are two kinds of women – sluts and respectable women. The mother also mentions the wharf-rat boys as the male equivalent to sluts. They too have no respectability in society, so the daughter should avoid being seen with them, let alone having a more intimate congress with them. As the mother and daughter go on with the cooking of bread, clothing, washing, and other housework, we get a sense that this is not incidental. By getting absorbed with housework, the mother is counting on it as a tool of preventing her daughter from becoming a slut. Moreover, we get an unambiguous notion that women who take care of the home and are not promiscuous are seen as higher-status in the community. This seems perfectly sensible if we take into account that societies without the luxuries of mass-produced goods, and other Western infrastructure, must rely on clear gender delineation of roles. After all, this is the history of Western societies as well. The short story portrays the mother as completely absorbed in the traditional culture and reasonably so. People behave based on the subtle cues they get from society and authority figures. We call this conformity – a powerful societal force without which we would know no stability. If one misses such societal cues or is seen as deliberately going against them, you risk becoming seen as an outcast, belonging to an undesirable class of people, such as the wharf-rat boys. In light of this, the harsh tone and name-calling coming from the mother, in the beginning, transforms into a well-intentioned upbringing by the end of the short story. Based on different genetic lineages, peoples have adopted different strategies when it comes to managing human sexuality and social status. The “Girl” short story gives us a glimpse into one such successful strategy employed by the communities of the Caribbean islands.   Resources Used Kincaid, Jamaica. Literature A Portable Anthology. 3rd ed. Boston, MA: Bedford St Martins, 2013. ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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