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Jamaica Kidcaid’s “Girl”

19 September 2014 By In Blogs

Introduction

The story in the poem is about the experiences of a young girl and a mature narrator living in a poor society.  The dynamics of the story shows a complicated relationship between an elderly person and a young girl as the elderly person tries to instill morals into the young girl. The voice of the narrator is so bitter and worries about the young girl becoming a woman.  The culture presented in this poem believes in the reputation of a girl in determining the worth of her life in the society. This short paper discusses the challenges of sexuality and how the power of domesticity is valued in the girl’s culture.

It is easy to tell the culture of the girl from the types of foods she is taught to cook including doukona. The peeper pot the narrator talks about related to Caribbean and Antigua. Benna is an Antiguan folksong showing sexuality. The narrator in the poem has fear that the girl already knows about sexuality. At the young age of the girl, she is not supposed to be singing benna because the teachings in the song are forbidden to the young and can’t be explained in public.

The narrator is worried about the present behavior of the girl, which might lead to promiscuity “and this way they won't recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming” (line 23). The narrator is determined to guard the sexuality of the girl to make sure that the girl is regarded as respectable in their society. Most of the advices given to the girl are mainly to upholding respectability. For example, the girl should know how to walk well and relate with other people. She is taught how to smile to different categories of people including those that she hate, likes and loves “this is how you smile to someone you don't like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don't like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely” (lines 16-18). The narrator wants the girl to realize her cultural position, which is different from that of a boy. As such, the girl must act in accordance to the advice to win respect from the society.

            The culture believes that when a girl has domestic knowledge, she becomes empowered as the leader of her household thereby making her an important community member. If the girl is not trained to be respectable, the community regards her as a slut. Respectable women are productive and both their families and the society respect them for that (““Girl” by Jamaica Kidcaid: cultural context” 2)

According to this culture, household work is very important in empowering women and keeping them engaged so that they are not easily tempted to promiscuity. To emphasize this, the narrator gives the girl numerous household instructions including cooking “cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil” (line 4) , sweeping “this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard” (lines 14-15), washing where she is taught on how to wash white clothes first and dry them separately before washing other color clothes (lines 1-2) and buying bread.

            The community also believes in the importance of food as a belief that domesticity brings happiness. Women are linked to their families through foods they put on the table. The narrator is proud in passing her knowledge about food to the girl. Women thus have the responsibility to learn from their elders all the recipes and culinary traditions for them to in turn pass it through generations.

The girl is also taught about how to cloth well to appear respectful. Specifically, she is taught how to make button holes and sew the button back to clothes to be neat, and warned against putting on clothes whose hems have come down. She is advised to sew hems so that she doesn’t look like a prostitute who doesn’t care about her looks. She is also taught how  to iron cloths especially men clothes both shirts and pants using her father’s to prevent the creases (lines 15-19).  Through these many teachings, the reader sees that women are expected to be more productive in the many roles they are assigned. Since promiscuity is regarded a great evil, mothers are ready to hide any sign of their promiscuous daughters from the public to maintain the good image. For example, the narrator is ready to help the girl get rid of unwanted pregnancy incase it happens “this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child” (line 42).

Conclusion

In this culture, older people have the responsibility to teach the young to be respectful. The social standing in the community has a great weight to the personalities. The appearance of women is therefore paramount in the society. They also need to learn how to keep their husbands clean and smart by washing their clothes and ironing them properly. Clothing reveals the character of a person as well as the personality. As such, shabbiness shows that someone is lazy and is from poor backgrounds. Washing, sewing and ironing clothes projects the status of women and their worth in their families and the larger community (Kincaid 578-579).

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