(14 November, 2016)
In a child’s development, the presence (or lack thereof), personalities, and parenting styles of one’s mother and father are obviously extremely important factors, influencing nearly every aspect of the child’s mind. In a very common phenomenon, children grow up to be incredibly similar to their parents, whether they like it or not, perhaps developing a similar addiction or lifestyle. A parent may force their child to follow the same arbitrary rules that they themselves followed and expect their child to grow up to be like them, as that’s the only life the parent knows. This is an idea that is hinted at in Jamaica Kincaid’s dialogue, Girl. While full of complex emotional themes and ideas, this is one that stands out in particular, which adds a level of fascination with this piece. This fascination has caused me to read Girl several times, scouring the lines for more hints of this theme, and since then, it has become abundantly clear that the most captivating part of Kincaid’s quietly emotional story, is the character of the Narrator, who perfectly symbolizes the cycle of parent-child.
Who is this narrator? On the surface, it seems to be some kind of maternal figure, perhaps a mother, a nanny, or something of that sort. This narrator appears to be listing things to do in order to be a proper woman, to a child, who only occasionally talks back in the piece. The Narrator can be condescending and harsh with the child, saying that the child is “bent on becoming” a “slut” and acts like a boy (Kincaid 488-489). It’s clear that the Narrator will see things no other way but hers, and when the child questions her way, she either ignores the child or implies that she’s stupid and is not listening to what the narrator is saying. The narrator seems to know all of this due to her own culture, suggesting that she is a grown woman. This ‘woman’, however strict and heartless she may seem, hints at depth and rebelliousness in lines like “this is how to love a man, and if they don’t work, there are other ways, and if they don’t work, don’t feel too bad about giving up; this is how to spit in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn’t fall on you. (Kincaid 489)” It’s clear that there’s some of the Girl in the Woman, and the Woman might have had this same conversation as a child, causing her to be like this today. This seems to be the only way she knows how to love, as she probably experienced this callous parenting as well. This leads to a possible interpretation of the text that accentuates this cycle: That both the woman and the girl are the same person and that this is an internal conflict, between the expectations before and one’s own personal logic. This analysis would suggest that the narrator does wish to be a proper woman, but has her own questions that she attempts to suppress for the sake of tradition.
It’s left up to the reader’s interpretation as to who the narrator of Girl is, but regardless of whether she’s a maternal figure talking to a child or a child talking to herself, this character of the ‘woman’ seems to have once been the ‘girl’, shaming the girl because that is what she knows. If the woman had been treated differently, perhaps she’d be a little more sympathetic to the girl. In this case though, the woman’s blunt attitude and rigid rule structure will no doubt affect the girl in a similar way, who may become the woman in this conversation some day.