The short story “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid is a story of the belief that happiness steams from a life of domesticity. The central topics of gender roles in a family structure, and the expression of female sexuality and will be examined. A look into the mother’s beliefs on the necessity of serving your husband and remaining sexually conservative will be the focus. Secondly, the importance of food and clothes in the story will be looked at, providing evidence to the central claim of being content with this lifestyle.
Lastly, the relationship between the mother and daughter will be discussed, reflecting on if the views of the mother will ultimately make the decisions for the daughter, as to the path she will follow in her own life. The portrayal of gender roles in this story shows the husband as the breadwinner and the wife staying home to tend to the house and children. This could be considered traditional, however we would consider it outdated in western society today. This story has the mother, teaching her daughter her place in Antiguan society, most likely in the fifties, and in a marriage.
This is demonstrated though the teaching of everyday tasks she will need to know to run a household smoothly. It is also clear that the mother’s life reflects these ideals that a husband should be the one working and the wife is to be happy and content by taking pride in her home. The mother also has very strong views on behavior and throughout the story gives many warnings on this such as “on Sundays try and walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming”. This is a very clear statement giving us an idea of the mother’s values with female sexuality as well as a reflection on the values at that time.
She wants her daughter to find a husband and she believes kept pure, and with the knowledge of how to run a successful household, she will be a prize for any man. Abstinence sounds great in theory, but this is not always the case for young women. In this time, expectations are to be wed and then have sex. As much as the mother would like to keep her daughter from having sex, from warning her, and teaching her things like letting then hem of her dress down to be longer, she does realize this may not happen.
It is interesting how she feels it necessary to teach her how to get rid of a baby. This reference to abortion at this time shows how crucial the need to keep up appearances at any cost can be, even if it is illegal or against moral and religious beliefs. Food and clothes play an important role in many of the mother’s teachings. The mother shows the daughter how to cook pumpkin fritters, bread pudding, pepper pot and doukona. Some of these dishes are traditional Antiguan which shows the importance of tradition and doing things the way they always have been done. The mother also teachers her how to set tables specifically for different meals.
This shows how in the household, eating together is an important part of her ideal home and family. The role of bread in this story is crucial. At the end, he mother teaches her how to squeeze the bread to tell if it is fresh. The daughter, replies “but what if the baker wont let me feel the bread? ” The mother frustrated after all of her lessons is upset that her daughter has not gotten the point that if you do all of these things, you will not have to worry about it because the baker will respect you.
The role of the clothes is quite similar to that of food. She teaches her daughter to keep things clean, how to separate the colors from the darks and lights, as well as when to wash each. This particular example shows how much importance the mother places on routine. She also mentions the pressing of her husband’s khaki pants, showing that the way he presents himself can be a reflection of her. Hemming dresses and skirts was looked at with relation to female sexuality earlier, but it also is an example of how much importance is placed on appearances.
The relationship between the mother and daughter in this story is important to recognize because the mother seems to hold preconceived notions about what daughter will or will not become. Following most instructions her mother provides, the mother concludes the set with some mention of her daughter being bent on becoming a slut. It seems like she uses this word to encompass any from of deviance from the social norm. It’s questionable as to why her mother has such a strong fear that her daughter will become his—we do not have any specific examples identifying any reason for her to think such things of her own child. Therefore, we lack the ability to argue for or against such a point. However, this might be a difference in generation, perhaps the girl’s mother is stuck in the ways to which she was taught by women in her family before hand. Perhaps her mother has a fear that her daughter is going astray from her values or living a modernized life that she is so unfamiliar with.
We tend to fear what is unfamiliar, especially when it happens so close to home. Parents always want to teach their children what they know, however, children don’t always choose to follow. Whether the daughter chooses to listen and follow, or listen and lead her own life, it is clear that her mother has had a significant impact on the daughters life. The importance of domesticity to the mother, and having her daughter display a conservative sexuality ties back to the behaviours related to food and cloth in this story.
The mother places this vital importance on household knowledge and respectable appearances, believing they are the key to overall happiness. This is clearly not the case. For some people this type of life could bring them a sense of fulfillment or accomplishment. However, for others, this may not feel like a life of their own and could live always feeling empty or wanting something more. People should be given the choice to do what they want. Unfortunately in this time, women did not get that luxury.