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Social Discrimination in Jamaica Kincaid’s Girl

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One would think that after centuries of living, humanity is no different now than what we read about in the dark ages, where women were to be seen and not heard. Society, as we know, has had a role for the women to play, a role that if they did not conform to, they were labeled in derogative ways. “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid is a short fictional story whose main characters are a girl and her mother. The story is written as a continuous prose poem and brings the attention of the audience to a mother-daughter relationship immediately when the story starts. The girl in the story is the fictional character representing Kincaid while young. The story depicts the type of relationship the girl and her mother had, for instance, the mother did most of the talking in the story while the girl listened. The mother was telling the girl what is expected of her in all aspects of life, the mother already had a prescription for every situation the girl might find herself in. At the end of the day the girl is bombarded with too many instructions that she really does not have to conform with, but the mother believes that her daughter must behave the way a woman is expected to. Therefore, the Girl is a short fictional story that the author uses to showcase how the family has been at the forefront in the shaping of members’ behavior.

Information Given to The Girl

The mother in the short story gives the girl a wide array of information, information that touches on virtually all aspects of the girl’s life. The mother provides this information in a manner suggesting that she is merely passing down the information like it was the case when she was younger herself. She does not really have a care what the girl thinks as long as the girl heads to what she is being told. Thus, the mother prescribes a handful of information and direction that the girl must accept and follow, for instance, the mother gives clear instructions on what the girl should be doing while at the house (Kincaid 320–21), outside the house, or wherever she might decide to go. One can understand a mother’s position when they give such instructions to a daughter, what they never seem to understand is that we are all living in different times hence, there should be some considerations but that was not the situation in the girl’s mother case. She gives clear instructions on what the girls should and should not do (Bailey) and expects the girl to follow every single instruction to the latter.

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There is an underlying effect to these instructions since even though some of them could have benefited the girl, some provided negative information that was not entirely true. Instructions that could have proven beneficial to the girl include; the mother instructs the girl to always soak the salt fish before cooking – this piece of information since if the girl heads to what her mother is telling her then she will not prepare salty fish that will be hard to be consumed but, if she does sock the salty fish the salt content will be reduced (Kincaid 320–21). The mother also tells the girl that she should not go in the sun bare-headed. To some extent, the mother tells the girl positive information but she also touches on the negative information. Most of what the mother tells the daughter are downright wrong but she feels it is her duty to educate her daughter in the ways of her forefathers.

Negative instructions that the girl is expected to follow include but are not limited to; the mother warns the girls against playing marbles with boys, as well as generally playing with boys (Kincaid 320–21). This information can affect how the girl will be interacting with her male counterparts in the future. This is because she is not allowed to interact with boys, she might grow up despising men which is not an acceptable way of living. The mother also teaches the girl to brew homemade medicine that could be used in abortion of pregnancies (Rosenberg and Vitez). The fact that this medicine is not tested and approved by qualified medical professionals could lead to future complications. Horrid effects like being barren could be the result of using such medicine. Such instructions can destroy a young girl’s life in ways we cannot envision.

Overbearing Mothers

Parents believe that by being overbearing they are protecting their children, at least that is what most of them think. This notion is vividly depicted throughout the story as the mother is only concerned with airing her thoughts on all matters that might affect the girl’s life in the future. As one would expect the mother has far more lines in the story than the girl. This makes the story one-sided as no one knows what the girl really wants, what she thinks about all the instructions, the audience does not get to know if she is okay with all the instructions or not.

Most of the mother lines are instructions after another, with little consideration on what the girl thinks. The story further cements the mothers’ position as passive to the daughters’ needs as she does not make any efforts to find out what her daughter thinks about some of the instructions she was giving the girl. The mother clearly shows disinterest in the daughter’s life as not once does she asks her about her desires, for instance, the mother constantly claims that the girl plays benna when she attends Sunday school (Kincaid 320–21). She does not give it a second thought that maybe the girl does not play benna while at the Sunday school (ROSENTHAL). The girl even goes ahead to set the record straight by telling the mother that she does not sing benna in Sunday school or any other place for that matter.

Furthermore, the mother does not ask the girl if she still plays marble with the boys. The mother clearly overlooks the importance a child stands to gain when they are allowed to interact with other kids their age (Kincaid 320–21). The mother is not concerned with the social life of the girl. Parents need to know that their children stand to gain more when they allow their children to play with other children in their neighborhoods as they get to learn useful life skills that can be used in the future. Denying children such opportunities may not sit well with their social life in the future. Thus, the story plays the role of warning the reader against being too overbearing to their children.

Stereotypes

In Kincaid’s Girl, society is spreading stereotypes to young children. This situation is demonstrated through the mother’s notions and ideas that her daughter should act and behave like all women before her. The girl is given instructions that discriminate against women, all because the mother thinks that that’s how the women folk should live and act, for instance, the mother forbids the girl from playing marbles with the boys, and that the girl should only concern herself with household shores created a barrier for the girl since the mother is telling her that there are things she can do (ROSENTHAL), as well as those that she cannot do for being a female. These notions from the mother create a stereotype that eventually leads to sexes disparities that we are seeing in the world. The mother thinks it is ok if women only work on household chores, and that men can freely go out whenever they see fit. The fact that the other constantly refers to the girl as a “slut” (Kincaid 320–21) can be the result of discrimination against women she has seen in her days.

Conclusion

From the above analysis, Kincaid’s Girl can be seen to effectively communicate some of the social ills that have been happening to young girls as they are being forced to conform with ideologies that do not fit, for instance, the girl was being given tedious instructions on how to act and what she should not do with no considerations on what she thought. The story sheds light on how parents have been acting as a medium through which social discrimination is passed to younger generations. Kincaid’s Girl strikingly stands out as it is a clear depiction of what is happening in many households.

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