The story Girl by Jamaica Kincaid is an epic representation of how mothers are involved in the upbringing of their daughters in the best way possible, which creates their positive image in the society. More so, it tends to bring out the society’s perception of women who do not follow the standard forms of conduct in their daily lives. In terms of context, it highlights the experience of being young and female in a poor country especially during the colonial period. It is anchored on the themes of the transformative power of domesticity and the risks of being a woman in the society. Much is expected of a woman, and she is easily tagged a ‘slut’ if she goes against the expected behavior. The most interesting thing in the story is that Kincaid appears to be offering her own story, as it happened during Britain colonization of Antigua. A comparison of the story would be made to A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, which also highlights the same issues in his work. The most significant lesson from both of these stories is that women have to exhibit a high level of submission and consistent behavior, as they live with their families, husbands, and other members of the society. This essay explicates the view that Girl by Jamaica Kincaid is an undisputed representation of colonization and the society’s expectation of women in terms of their behavior.
It is worth understanding that the story is a representative of a period when men dominated the society and controlled women as they deemed it fit. The most significant aspect that makes Girl a representative of its time is the full involvement of mothers in the upbringing of their daughters to ensure they do not deviate from the expected standards of behavior. From the beginning of the story, the mother offers vital pieces of advice to the daughter reiterating what should be and what should not be done by her daughter. For instance, she says, “on Sundays, try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming; don’t sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn’t speak to wharf-rat boys” (Kincaid 1144). This is a clear indication of the view that mothers were keenly involved in monitoring and directing the actions and steps of their daughters at this time. Daughters have no option of going against the desired forms of behavior because they are likely to be branded ‘sluts’. However, mothers of this time do not have a chance to allow such things to happen with their daughters, as they take the dominant role of ensuring they are behaving in the expected way from different places such as home, church, their husband’s house, and the larger eyes of the society (Bner 15).
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The socio-cultural movement reflected in the text is colonialism. It specifically represents Britain colonization of Antigua, and the plight of the colonized parties. With the existing colonialism, members in Antigua do not have any other option but to work as slaves. They do not receive much compensation for the services they offer as slaves and have to live on little money they have (Bner 7). Therefore, the mother in the story appears to be transferring most of her poverty frustrations to her daughter in the story. In fact, she does not give her a chance to interrupt during the conversation. The daughter only manages to ask her two questions during the entire conversation. The high level of suffering that Antiguans undergo reflects the negatives of colonization, as it is the primary contributor to poverty and immense suffering among the locals. They do not have an option of overcoming these different forms of suffering (Seanor 23).
The dramatic aspect of the story involving the dialogue between mother and daughter helps convey the message of dominance throughout the story. The conversation between the mother and the daughter is not balanced from a dramatic perspective where everyone is supposed to be given the opportunity to contribute to the ideas suggested. However, as a child, the girl is dominated by the society from the early stages of her life while living with parents. The only question she gets to say is, “but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school” (Kincaid 1144). This dramatic aspect is vital in emphasizing the message that the girl has no voice in this society. The only thing she has to do is to be cautious in everything she does, as there is a risk of being labeled a slut. Her mother continues explaining, “and this, they won’t recognize immediately the slut I warned you against becoming” to explain her what it means to be good in the eyes of the society (Seanor 54). There is nothing they could do to emancipate themselves because the whole process of silencing women begins with their mothers who are supposed to be in charge of ensuring they have the confidence. Therefore, drama effectively brings out the message of dominance in the story hence indicating the dominant power of men and their view on women who do not live in the expected way.
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The story is anchored on one key symbol, ‘benna,’ that helps in the full understanding of what the mother tells her daughter. She warns her daughter against singing benna while in the Sunday school (Kincaid 1144). The benna symbolizes sexuality and the mother fears that her daughter should not get to this stage to be categorized as a slut. She is not supposed to sing a song that attracts negative feelings and perceptions from other people. Overall, singing benna in a Sunday school is not only perceived disrespectful of God, but is also a forbidden knowledge that is not supposed to be discussed in public, especially by young girls, as they risk losing their dignity.
It is worth noting that the aspects presented in Girl relate directly to other common stories highlighting the plight of women. For instance, this story relates directly to the issues raised in A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. Firstly, the Girl and A Doll’s House are similar in their depiction of the theme of domesticity for the girl child. Accordingly, both stories tend to bring out the view that women need to be domesticated and be limited to the performance of household chores. They do not have an opportunity to get into the field and participate in other activities that are fully perceived masculine. For example, in A Doll’s House, Ibsen captures Nora’s assertion that, “When I lived home with Papa, he told me all his opinions, so I had the same ones too” (Ibsen 34). This is reflective of the point that her father domesticates her just because she is a child. Despite her rich background, she does not have a chance to participate in the economic aspect of her own family. The presentation of the plight of women is clearly captured in both stories, and it makes the case for domestication. The mother feels that the girl has to be fully domesticated for her to live in line with the desires of other members of the society.
These stories are also similar in the utilization of drama to bring out the main point, which is the domination of men over women in the society. The Girl specifically involves some sense of dialogue in the form of advice from a mother to a daughter to ensure she is able to learn the patterns of social behavior (Smithee 22). The mother brings out the dominance of men by paying attention to every aspect that touches woman’ life. For instance, she says, “this is how you behave in the presence of men who don’t know you” (Kincaid 1144). This is reflective of the view that men have a different perception about women. They do not view them as equals, but as members of a weaker sex. In a similar sense, A Doll’s House utilizes drama in the best way possible to bring out the position of women in the society. They do not have the authority to make their own decisions both at home and in their marriages. This makes it difficult for them to prosper within the society. For example, Ibsen’s assertion that, “I’ll do anything to please you Tovarld. I’ll sing for you, dance for you” is reflective of the role of women as pleasers of men (Ibsen 56). The best way for them to be respected in the society is to only act in ways that please men. However, the ultimate price they pay is that they gain nothing out of it, as their dignity is trampled on at any given chance.
However, these two stories differ in terms of the historical time and place. As noted earlier, Girl is set in the 20th century during the colonial period when Britain comes into Antigua. This historical period is significant in highlighting the fight against oppressive powers of the colonialists. In similar respect, it can be seen that women are fighting for their rights within the society, but they do not get a way out because of the prison that they have been locked in by their own mothers (Bner 14). The context in terms of place also seems to be set in a poor background where parents are only doing their best for their children to ensure they get everything possible in the course of their activities. On the other hand, A Doll’s House is set in a different period in the 19th century where women do not have a chance to speak for their rights. The setting in terms of place elicits individuals living in a rich background, but women do not have an opportunity to make their own decisions in the course of their living in the society (Smithee 44). The rich setting does not give them an opportunity to handle the regular house chores, but they are still limited in terms of contributing positively to the wellbeing of their own families.
In conclusion, men seem to have dominated over women for a long period of time as highlighted in Girl by Jamaica Kincaid. The mother is determined to ensure that her daughter learns the best of the values required in the society. Their actions are limited to the actions that would impress men and not their own personalities and conscience. The theme of women domestication seems to dominate this story hence emphasizing the generational dominance of men over their women. This story relates directly to A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen in different aspects such as the theme of male dominance. Drama has been utilized in both stories in the best ways possible to highlight the plight of women and the need to change the aspects of the society that seem to put them down at any given time. The varying historical periods between the two stories highlight the view that the practice of dominance over women has been in place for a longer period, and it might be a high time it stopped with transformative policies on affirmative actions and equality.