My first reaction to Kincaid’s Girl was rather one-sided: I perceived the mother character in a negative way because of her coldness, distrust, and preemptive shaming of the girl’s sexuality. The woman is domineering and insensitive: the girl manages to interrupt the string of advice only twice. Moreover, the first girl’s interjection occurs only two pieces of advice after the accusation that she tries to deny, which creates the impression that she was trying to speak up earlier while the mother would not listen to her. The mother is bitter about the world, society, men, and the girl, which is shown by her comments about love, bullying, abortion, and sexuality. Overall, this uncaring, cold demeanor is unlikely to help the girl form a healthy image of herself and the world.
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However, a second look at the story made me notice more layers to it. The final phase of the woman is a question: “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?” (Kincaid 506). Thus, it is hinted that the woman does not expect the girl to turn into a “slut” and tries to help her avoid it. Moreover, the woman’s knowledge about the ways to “deceive” people into thinking that one is a “lady” and not a “slut” (by walking and smiling correctly) hints that she might fear her own sexuality as well. Thus, some of the harm of the advice seems to originate from the mother’s own issues, which, among other things, are conditioned by society’s misogyny.
The fact that the mother tries to teach her daughter suggests that she is not too bitter and disappointed in the girl. The program includes housework skills (apparently essential for a poor woman), socialization knowledge (including facts about abuse), and even information about finances and abortion. It cannot be said that the stern tutelage is not going to be of use for the girl. The mother tries to fulfill her role despite her bitterness and internalized misogyny.
Finally, there is a development in the story. The woman’s advice includes more mature themes towards the end, which indicates that the girl becomes older. The question of the girl seems to be related to growing up as well: she doubts that the baker would let her feel the bread. It might indicate the girl’s low self-esteem that developed because of the shaming. However, it is also the first question that the girl asks, and it occurs immediately after the piece of advice that the girl doubts. It is the first doubt, the first question, and the first successful interruption, which indicates a change in the dynamics between the characters. In my view, the short story Girl presents very a complex relationship between a mother and a girl where the mother dutifully tries to fulfill her role despite the burdens of stigmatization and overwork that come with her gender and socioeconomic status, and the litany of advice helps the girl to learn about this stigmatization explicitly and implicitly as she is growing up.
Kincaid, Jamaica. “Girl.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, edited by Richard Bausch and Ronald Verlin Cassill, Norton, 2000, pp. 505-506.