This lesson will summarize the short prose poem, ‘Girl,’ by Jamaica Kincaid. Also, this lesson will provide an overview of some central themes and provide analysis for each.
‘Girl’, a Prose Poem
‘Girl’ is a prose poem written by Jamaica Kincaid that was published in The New Yorker in 1978.’Girl’ was Kincaid’s first piece of published work. Kincaid is from Antigua, and most of her work contains stories of Antiguan life as a colony of Great Britain and as an independent nation dealing with the aftermath of colonial rule. As a woman of African descent, Kincaid explores gender, race and class issues in her work.
‘Girl’ is no exception and poignantly exemplifies many of these themes.Let’s take a closer look!
A prose poem reads like prose, but it follows the rules of conventional poetry. The only characters in ‘Girl’ are a mother and a daughter. ‘Girl’ is a somewhat of a stream-of-consciousness narrative of a mother giving her young daughter advice on important life issues and concerns. The poem is one long sentence of various commands separated by semi-colons.The advice consists of how to do certain domestic behaviors, including making Antiguan dishes, as well as the more assertive points of being a respectable woman and upholding sexual purity. There is a lot of discussion from the mother about how the daughter must interact with people as well as how to behave in a romantic relationship with a man.
The daughter only speaks twice in the story. First she stands up for herself against one of her mother’s questions that turned into an accusation, and again at the end where she asks her mother a clarifying question. It concludes abruptly with a rhetorical question from the mother wondering if her daughter didn’t understand how to behave based on everything she was told.
Themes and Analysis
There are three central themes to the story: sexual reputation, domesticity, and mother/daughter relationships.First, let’s examine sexual reputation in this poem.
The mother asserts in three different instances that she wants to protect her daughter from activities that would make her out to be ”;the slut I know that you are so bent on becoming”, and lastly ”;the slut I have warned you against becoming.” She tells her daughter that she should walk and dress in a certain way, and how to talk to men so they don’t suspect her of being sexually promiscuous. The repetition of the phrase is important to note as it centralizes sexual reputation as one of the most important pieces of advice for the entire poem.Next, let’s take a look at domesticity in ‘Girl.’ Most of the poem is filled with how to complete domestic duties like sewing, gardening, cleaning the house, keeping proper hygiene and setting the table for different types of meals. Also within the domestic sphere, the mother advises her daughter on how to maintain a relationship with a man. Domesticity is important to relate to the daughter as that was what the definition of a good woman was around the time of Kincaid’s upbringing.
Finally, a mother/daughter relationship is a major theme of this work. As the daughter only speaks twice in the poem, it is clear that the daughter is being talked at and not included in the conversation. The mother also assumes the daughter wants to become a ‘slut,’ even though there is no proof or reason given for why she thinks this. The tone of the do’s and don’ts in the poem sometimes make it seem as if the mother doesn’t really know her daughter and is generalizing. Overall, other tender moments in the poem show that the mother cares and is instructing her in the best way she knows.
All three of these themes work together to reveal that the mother is ultimately trying to protect her daughter from the worst thing that can happen to her, which is to be known as a sexually promiscuous woman, while also teaching her proper women’s work. She is imparting knowledge to her to make her a respectable woman as any mother would. Kincaid’s poem shows the complexities of life and relationships on the island during a critical time in Antigua.
‘Girl’ is a prose poem about a mother providing life advice and instruction to her daughter.
It is written by Antiguan author Jamaica Kincaid as one long sentence with each piece of advice separated by semi-colons. The poem explores themes of sexual reputation, domesticity and the complexity of a mother/daughter relationship.