"Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid

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"Girl" written by Jamaica Kincaid is an outstanding piece of writing, and it is outstanding in a number of ways. First of all it is critically important to understand, that this short story, which, however, has got a very u unusual form and can only be named a short story for the reasons of simplicity, is a reflection on her, Jamaica Kincaid, s past, the past, which made her run away from her home at the early age of seventeen, the past, which might have become the life of the girl, taught by the mother, and it was the advice, given by the mother, which the writer herself ran away from. She just did not want to follow them and realized quite clearly, that her mother was right: in her society, in the country she belonged to, there was no other way to survive for a women, unless she followed all the advice provided by her mother, unless she turned out to appear a obedient woman, her society was expecting to see in her, and the insincere person, it took to survive in this society. She simply did not see herself being such a woman, or, rather to say, she hated seeing herself as such. Therefore she had to make a change, making which within the society she lived in was impossible, it was designed for keeping people in their state, a lot of its norms were worked out to keep people from even dreaming of any changes. But Jamaica Kincaid was strong enough to stand up for her own life. In real fact, she first moved to New York to support her family with more money. But then, away from motherland, she had enough time to reconsider her life, to reflect on the feelings she had already had about her life and make the decision, which changed it entirely. But first it is important to have an overview of Jamaica Kincaid's early years.

Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson was her name, when she was born in the year 1949 in ST. John's (Antigua). And she belonged to a middle-class family of her mother, who was looking after the house, and of her step-father, who was a carpenter.

Meanwhile, Elaine herself believed their family to be poor. This hints us at the thought, that from the very early years of her life Elaine used to set much higher standards of life, than Antiguan society could offer her, a girl of color, living in formally post-colonial times, while the society had remained the way it used to be before, only formal changes took place. The early years of Elaine were full of domestic work, miserable and hard, this work contained carrying heavy buckets with water, replacing oil in lamps, doing the laundry, taking care of her three little brothers, when they were born. All the work had to be done without the help of any technological devices. Some people believe that Antigua was artificially cut from the achievements of civilizations, from technological workouts, so that the people of Antigua would be busy enough with their routine work, as not to have time or energy to think of any possible changes in their lives. And the attempt was quite successful. The girl was very curious and did very well at school. Academicals exercises, especially reading, were the sources of great joy for the girl. However, the births of her three brothers put an end to her scholarly life. Being thirteen years old, she was taken away from school in order to provide help in looking after her three brothers. And this gave her the feeling, that her own life and future is being sacrificed for the sake of the future of her brothers. She really could not stand this state of things. She believed it to be very unfair and the feeling of unfairness grew to become a motive for actions when one day, when looking after her brothers, she forgot about everything, sank in her reading. Having learnt about it, her mother burnt all her books, which she had loved so much.

Soon Elaine had a chance to move away from her family, which then turned out to be a cornerstone of her life. She moved over to New York, in order to earn more money and help her family with finances. The help was especially important, since her step-father had long been sick by that time, and therefore the sources of income were, to say the least, very limited. And being withdrawn from her motherland, from its reality and routine of everyday life, Elaine started to critically analyze her life, her future perspectives, her possible future and other related things. The perspective of returning home and leading the style of life, a woman of color could lead there - being a tool for everybody around, being a thoughtless machine, fulfilling its major functions without any failures, without having rights for such, having no interests of her own or time for such interests. And she suddenly realized that this sort of life was not for her. She would not be able to lead such life, especially then, having seen how different it actually could be.

Having realized all those things, she changed her name, calling herself Jamaica Kincaid, distanced herself from her mother and began living her own life. She was only seventeen then, but had enough strength to make such a decision and make necessary arrangements in order to put it to life.

Soon Jamaica's writing career started. She got a hold of Elizabeth Bishop's "In the Waiting room", and, as she herself stated, "I just knew how to write after that." (Kincaid& Kreilkamp, 55). This was the work, which inspired her to write "girl".

"Girl" was a very auto-biographic work. As the author herself stated, "everything in my writing is autobiographical--down to the punctuation." (Kincaid & Kreilkamp, 54). The text is almost a monologue of a woman, who is, likely, living in Antigua, which becomes obvious due to her mentioning a few details of local culture. Otherwise the text is tied neither to place, nor to the time. All we understand is that an older woman, who is very likely mother, teaches her daughter how to live, or, rather to say, how to survive in the society they live in. As Paravisini-Gebert notes, "the mother feels charged with the task of teaching her daughter the need for hypocrisy as a tool of survival" (52). However, as underlined by  One must also consider that Mother and Girl straddle two different times, the former a product of an Antigua ruled by English mores, and the latter from an Antigua moving into the "formerly colonized" period (Worda, ND). This is why the girl does not become what her mother expects her to be. A contribution to it is being made by the daughter's travel to New York.

However it is important to see, what exactly the woman finds to be useful, for her daughter to know and have proper skills for. The first thing is various routine domestic skills: this how to set the table, this is how to swipe the corner and so on. But she also teaches her daughter how to smile to a person, you do not like much. It is important to have such Hippocratic skills to survive in the society. Mother believes her daughter to be extremely incapable and all the advice, given to be very important, this is why she gives such detailed instructions. Yet, she has got doubts as for whether or not her daughter will be able to cope with all those skills and become good woman. This is why in the end of the story mother teaches her daughter how to feel the bread before buying it to make sure it is good, and being asked by her daughter about what to do if she is not let by the baker to feel the bread, the mother asks, whether her daughter feels she is going to end up to be the kind of a woman, the baker will not let come close to his bread. This is a very characteristic of the relations of the author and her mother.

In general the story is designed to show the horror of a color woman’s life in Antigua of the middle of XX century. At the time, when Great Britain was experiencing technological boom, just like any other developed country, the colonies were left without any elementary technical supplies, to make the work of their citizens harder and to make them think less. This was the comfortable way of managing the colony and receiving more of the labor of its citizens. Probably it was realized by British authorities and the situation remained the same for many years. The citizens, however did not stand up for their rights. They did not even dare to think about such an option. And it was only the fact, that the author found herself far away from the motherland, that gave her an opportunity to collect enough strength to realize all this truth and to stand up against it by means of not coming back home.

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