While growing up in different cultural and social backgrounds, individuals experience different beliefs and values. The high integration of different cultures and beliefs in the current age leads to the exposure to increased values. However, the case was different in the mid-20th century. In the poem Girl, which most people refer to a short story due to its form, Jamaica Kincaid takes an in-depth look into the impact of societal beliefs on individual values. The prose poem comprises of 650 words said by a mother to the daughter. The poem lacks any character descriptions, action, traditional plot, or setting. In the prose poem, the mother scolds and advises her daughter on the right path towards becoming a perfect woman. She uses the lessons and messages passed from one generation to the next. The daughter only interrupts her mother in two instances: when she is defending herself and asking follow-up questions. Numerous issues arise in the poem such as the difficulty in relationships between mothers and daughters, life under a patriarchy society, and contradictions of feminism. The information provided by the mother to her daughter reveals the process of imparting societal values, with the aim of influencing individual values.
Jamaica Kincaid spent a significant part of his younger life in Antigua, during the 1950s and the 1960s. In 1965 she cleared out Antigua for New York to fill in as a live in housekeeper, at that point considered photography at the New York School for Social Research and went to Franconia College in New Hampshire. In 1972 she changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid and was a staff author for the New Yorker magazine from 1974-1996, distributing her first book, At the Bottom of the River, an accumulation of short stories, in 1983. Her first novel, Annie John, followed in 1985 – the tale of a wilful 10-year-old experiencing childhood with Antigua. Advance books incorporate Lucy (1990); The Autobiography of my Mother (1996), a novel set on Dominica and told by a 70-year-old lady thinking back on her life; and Mr. Potter (2007). A Small Place (1988), is a short, ground-breaking book about the impacts of expansionism. My Brother (1997) narratives her sibling’s battle with AIDS. Her affection for cultivating has likewise prompted a few books regarding the matter, including My Garden (2000) and Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya (2005), a journal about a seed assembling trek with three botanist companions. Her novel See Now Then (2013) won the Before Columbus Foundation America Book Award in 2014. Jamaica Kincaid instructs in the English, African and African-American Studies Department at Harvard University and lives in Vermont.
As a child, she experienced a relationship with her mother for nine years. This was before her mother remarried. In a short while, she had three brothers and she had lost all the attention that she was used to. At the young age of 17, Kincaid left school and travelled to the US to work as a caregiver (Edwards 102). In the process, she cut all the relations with her family. She went ahead to change her name from Elaine Cynthia Potter to Jamaica Kincaid. With time, she embarked on writing. Girl was published for the first time on June 26, 1978. The inner messages contained in the prose poem directly relate to Kincaid’s experience and perception of an Antiguan woman. She expresses the lessons that she learnt while growing up on the societal expectations for women in Antigua.
One of the exemplary elements about the prose poem is its form. As mentioned above, some scholars commonly refer to the poem as a short story. The 650-word prose poem is the conversation between a mother and her daughter. The mother does the majority of the talking, while her daughter only interrupts her twice. The poem lacks any character descriptions, action, traditional plot, or setting (Saxton 64). However, Kincaid uses different literary techniques to allow the reader follow what is happening. For example, the use of semicolons in the prose poem is evident. The semicolons are Kincaid’s way of separating the advice that the mother gives, from the instances she is scolding her daughter. The mother also repeats herself numerous times, and this is way of showing emphasis on the delivered information.
According to scholars, the ability of Kincaid to use such as uncommon design in the prose poem, and still highlight major issues is one of the intriguing elements of the poem. Some of the identifiable issues that the poem discusses include difficulty in relationships between mothers and daughters, life under a patriarchy society, and contradictions of feminism. The fact that Kincaid managed to engulf all these themes in a 650-word prose poem shows increased literary skills (Bailey 118). Scholars praise Kincaid for showing rhythmic phrasing and great mastery of the language. For example, the title of the poem has a greater message. By using ‘girl’ as the title of the poem, Kincaid targets every young female that finds themselves in the position of receiving advice from their parents.
Impact of Societal Beliefs
The poem creates a situation that everyone can relate to, especially the women. The majority of the women undergo such a situation, with one being either the provider or the recipient. The process of a mother passing information to the daughter on the expectations she should meet is common in most cultures. The only difference is the type of advice provided and the identified values. One of the major themes that are evident is the strained relationship between mothers and daughters. The mother identifies two main categories of women in the society: the ‘sluts’ and the respectable ones (Bouson 70). The mother is keen on repeating numerous times that kind of behavior that her daughter should not possess, since it will lead to her belonging to the ‘slut’ category. One of the main issues that the mother identifies is that her daughter behaves in a manner that shows doubt that she might become a respectable woman in the society.
The mother plays an influential role in informing the daughter of her gender roles. In the majority of the societies, this is way used to deliver gender roles and information from one generation to the other. The mother believes that by her daughter learning the gender roles and societal expectations, she will understand the steps necessary to become a respectable woman. The information should prevent the daughter finding herself in situations that push her towards attaining undesirable characteristics. The mother believes that a woman’s reputation is associable with respect (Strauss 50). She emphasizes the role of a woman as the primary care giver in her home, which is part of the traditional gender roles. The ability of a woman to cook and feed her family brings her great respect and meaning in the society. Kincaid mentions regional foods that help one identifying that she is referring to her Antiguan origins.
The mother highlights on the issue of sexuality and the societal expectations for young women. However, she avoids the use of direct words and statements. Instead, the resolves to use tangential tasks and objects. In the majority of the traditional cultures, the discussion of sexuality or any related subjects was a taboo. Therefore, this explains why the mother asserts that it is wrong to squeeze bread before purchasing it. The statement greatly refers to the issue of sexuality and having sexual relationships before marriage (Bailey 120). The information informs the daughter that she should remain a virgin and avoid any sexual relationships, until marriage. The traditional societies placed increased attention towards respect. Therefore, women that engaged in sexual relationships before marriage did not receive any respect (Carli and Alice 635), as they violated the existing rules. The societal expectations provide the guideline on the behavior that women should possess to get the deserved respect and attention.
The process of the mother delivering information about the gender roles identifies the patriarchy within the traditional societies. It is evident that the advice that the mother provides comes from a point of societal judgment. The society sets the bar that every woman should strive to achieve through the mentioned approaches (Hessford and Brenda 32). However, in the real sense, the men set the rules in place. The men held all the positions of power, hence leading to the influence over the societal expectations for women. The gender roles were a way of the men controlling the behavior and conduct of the women (Peterson and Anne 95). The main pointers provided by the mother include what to cook and what to do inside and outside the house. For example, the mother scolds her daughter for her walking style. All the information highlights that in the society, women were scrutinized based on their presence and ability to carry out domestic duties. The traditional societies did not provide women with another way of proving their worth and meaning. The lack of access to education or employment meant that the women had to stick to the oppressive gender roles and positions in the society.
The issue of sexuality emerges again when the mother highlights the process of preparing medication for an abortion. The information emerges from the strict laws governing sexual relationships outside marriage (Kincaid 10). This information in a great way creates the conflict between the mother and the daughter. It is a contradiction of the beliefs that the daughter shares, and some of the advice previously stated by her mother. The mother aims to provide the daughter with information that she can use to carry out an abortion, and hence protect her reputation within the society. This raises numerous questions about the moral reason involved in the process (Dweck and Ellen 256). It questions whether gaining respect from the society is worth the struggle. The mother also warns her daughter about playing marbles with boys. The information can have great impacts on the ability of the daughter socializing with boys her age. The information is contradictory towards the societal roles and beliefs. Therefore, it is correct to assert that not all the advice that the mother gave her daughter was beneficial.
In the end, the mother had provided lessons for the daughter that she ought to use to become a good and respectable woman in the society. The process of delivering the information fell in line with the societal appeal to imparting beliefs and values in children. The mother had to take responsibility of the action, as her daughter’s father was unavailable. In this case, one ought to think that the conversation might have been different. One might have expected the woman to highlight how the society is oppressive against the women or how the men use patriarchy in the society. Instead, the woman took a different path as she avoided all this information, and focused on the gender roles and the societal expectations. The information would only have the effect of enforcing the gender roles and patriarchy on the daughter, instead of emancipating her. It would have been preferable if the mother identified or informed the daughter of the power, which women deserve in the society. The provision of this information might have played an influential role in empowering her and pushing her to greater heights.
Challenging Societal Beliefs
The 21st century has presented changes to numerous sectors all over the world. One of the affected areas by the shift in dynamics in this century is culture. In the past, the societal beliefs had a huge impact on the personal beliefs that individuals expressed. During the period when Kincaid grew up and when writing the novel, the impact of the society on individuals was still large. This explains why the context of the book was very important. The provision of advice to daughters by their mothers was a norm in all cultures (Slater 295). As much as Kincaid wrote the prose referring to specific elements that directly, relate to the Antiguan societal expectations of a perfect woman, the poem gained global acclamation since it fit in with all other cultures. However, since the publishing of the poem, things in the world have changed. This does not mean that parents no longer provide advice to their daughters and sons. The change comes in how people perceive things, especially amongst the younger generations.
First, the societal expectations of women are different due to feminism and the empowerment of the female gender. In the 20th century, the society was mainly patriarchal, with the women expected to stay at home, to cook, clean, and feed their families. However, in the past years, the position of women in the society has been improving (Bandura 102). Women receive the same education as their male counterparts, and it is the same case for employment opportunities (Offe 846). Therefore, women are in a better position in this century compared to the 20th century. The women have equality and can compete with men on the same platform. Despite the fact that this does not work in all sectors, it is effective in some sectors or organizations. I would like to add that not all of society is like this. For example in certain Middle Eastern countries women are just now allowed to drive a car and do certain things on there own, when before they couldn’t.
Many of the families that do come to America still hold their cultures traditions and values. Such as the husband takes care of the family and whatever he says goes. I personally can relate to this coming from a Latino background, my father was everything in our household. He was the breadwinner and the discipliner, whatever he said goes. I do want to state that this was the older generation and now as society as changed so but I feel as those older values and traditions are dying down. Therefore, the change in gender roles means that some of the advice that the mother was giving her daughter might be ineffective currently. For example, failing to eat fruits on the streets to avoid flies following someone is unreasonable. Some messages contained in the poem, such as how to become a good woman are still effective. The process of challenging the societal beliefs and values emerges from the availability of information in the current day. As mentioned above, the global society comprises of numerous cultures. The blending of different cultures and their values creates a wide pool for individuals to pick what they want to believe or follow. The same process is what is useful in cultural integration. The process leads to individuals picking the elements that they need from different cultures they interact with and understand (Van Stekelenburg and Bert 109). This means that even after one receives advice from their parent on the preferred behavior, they still have to choose whether to follow it or not. In the case of the poem, the girl receiving the advice did not have the option of using the advice or not. The only option was taking the advice and using it to become a better and perfect woman, according to the guidelines provided in the society. The increased freedom in the 21st century allows individuals to show differences in their characters, personas, and beliefs. This explains the reason behind the emergence of new forms of sexuality.
Overall, Girl is a poem that shows the relationship between societal values and individual beliefs. In the process of growing up, the majority of the beliefs and values that one gains relate to their environment. The family and society are two social units that can greatly influence the values that an individual possesses. For example, an individual who grows up in a community that believes that eating pork is a crime and should be disallowed might probably grow up sharing the same beliefs. Therefore, the individual might never end up tasting pork in their lives, due to their societal beliefs. The same case applies for gender roles. The gender roles before the changes in the 21st century involved women providing primary care for their family, and men providing. The prevalence of these gender roles was due to the process of passing information from one generation to the other. This is the same case with what the mother is trying to do in the poem. In the end, individuals end up possessing cultural values that have a connection to the societal values. I have personally been influenced to carry on and dress in more generally ladylike routes by my mom and sisters. This frequently conflicts with my geeky, tomboyish nature, particularly since I abhor wearing things like studs, high-heels, (most) brilliant hues, or frilly garments – the sorts of things that are likened to gentility. I likewise don’t frequently go about as exquisite or detached as my mom would lean toward, but instead I am for the most part limiting, pessimistic, cumbersome, and nerdy. These qualities don’t generally fall under the obvious speculations for females; they are some place in the middle of male and female attributes.
However, times are different and people are beginning to question societal beliefs more. In this century, individuals determine their values and beliefs based on what they feel are right. A large number of the gender stereotypes we know today were not generally display before; they are moderately new patterns in human culture. This is on the grounds that social desires for every sexual orientation change after some time, and frequently grow distinctively in societies around the globe. Sara Bobolts, an author for The Huffington Post, expressed how a few basic gender stereotypes changed after some time. Bobolts portrays how gender stereotypes, for example, the shading blue being for young men and the shading pink being for young ladies, are new ideas. She clarifies that between the years 1918 and 1940, pink was seen as a manly shading, while blue was seen dainty and delicate, influencing it to most appropriate for females. Bobolts likewise expresses that amid the middle Ages in Europe, high-heels were solely for men, as opposed to ladies. They were viewed as an “indication of manliness”, contingent upon their tallness. This demonstrates the characteristics individuals associate with “customary” sexual orientation classes were altogether different just a couple of hundreds of years back, and can’t be utilized as a dependable reason for setting up parts today. Despite the fact that societal values still have a huge impact on the individual beliefs, people are becoming open to the idea that one can have different views and opinions. The ability of individuals challenging the societal norms explains the diversity in gender roles. Women and men comfortably take up roles that were previously considered to belong to one gender. Despite the difference in approach in this century, the advice and scolding that one receives from their parents still plays an influential role in determining their character and behavior.
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