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Jamica Kincaid's "Girl"


Literature in Context

To understand more about the context of Kincaid's work, I invite you to listen below:

A Video of a Kincaid Lecture

Understanding Kincaid's biography can help us better understand the cultural context of her work. Meanwhile, what is so amazing about her writing is that it transcends cultural boundaries. While understanding Kincaid's background will help us interpret the cultural framework of her piece, it's also interesting to look at the universality of her themes. How does she speak of problems in family (mother/daughter) relationships in her culture? How does she speak of problems in family (mother/daughter) relationships in general?


A Brief Biography of Jamaica Kincaid

David P. Lichtenstein '99, Brown University, Contributing Editor, Caribbean Web

Jamaica Kincaid's twisted quest for self began with her May 25, 1949 birth in Antigua. She was then christened Elaine Potter Richardson, but when she fled the island at the age of seventeen, she left her family as well as her name behind and entered North America as Jamaica Kincaid. Her life should seem familiar to those who know her heavily autobiographical work. She worked first in New York City as an au pair, for an upper class family much like the one pictured in Lucy. She left this work to study photography at the New School for Social Research and then went on to Franconia College in New Hampshire (but did not take a degree) before returning to New York. There she became a regular contributor to the New Yorker magazine, writing for nearly twenty years (1976-1995) before the arrival of new management convinced her to leave. She now resides in Bennington Vermont with her husband and children.

Kincaid's status as an exile informs so much of her writing. It allows (or perhaps forces) her to maintain distance from both her past and her present, as she critically examines the suffocating smallness (and small-mindedness) of her native Antigua, then juxtaposes it against the ignorant opulence of North America. Her narrators too seem alienated from all those around them, seeking both control over and freedom from these human connections known as relationships. But no discussion, no matter how brief, can be complete without mention of the central relationship in Kincaid's life--that with her mother. Kincaid's tight, lyrical prose guides the reader through her tortured recollections of her mother, as that relationship takes on the dual gravity of mother-daughter relationships that many readers can relate to as well as of the hegemonic interactions between mother country (here England) and daughter island (Antigua). Stacking these parallel visions on top of each other and infusing them with her own feelings of anger and suffocation, Kincaid draws the reader through the struggle for personal development not only of her narrators but of the writer herself

Evaluating Author's Argument

In our discussion of Kincaid's monologue, we asked several questions about the piece that can lead us to better understanding Kincaid's argument or main idea. They may not spell out the argument, but they give us bits and peaces that we glean in order to synthesize a sense of her main idea.

Group Questions

1. How does the syntax (sentence structure) help us understand the piece?

Answer: There are no periods, and it seems like a steady stream of ideas and words. Since nobody actually speaks this way, this leads us to believe that the monologue is not being spoken in real time, but that it is being remembered and is inside the head of the girl.

2. How does the balance of the mother's voice vs. the daughter's voice help us understand what Kincaid is saying?

Answer: The mother's voice is dominant (by far), and the daughter's protest is not listened to by the mother, while her question is dismissed. This gives us the impression that the mother's voice is overwhelming even in the girl's own head.

3. What is the significance of the parallelism (repetition to make a point) of the slut comments?

Answer: Despite the many and varied instructions and advice given the daughter, this is what stuck. This "curse" was a repeated impression she got from her mother.

4. What kind of woman do you see this girl growing up to be?

Answer/s: Varried opinions. A slut? Broken and self hating? Hard and matter of fact, just like her mother? Better than her mother as she processes the dysfunction of their dynamic through her writing?

From these questions, we can put together Kincaid's argument with support from the text.