by Jamaica Kincaid
Autobiography, Postmodernism, Coming-of-Age
Jamaica Kincaid has said that most of her work is vaguely autobiographical: "Everything I say is true, and everything I say is not true. You couldn't admit any of it to a court of law. It would not be good evidence" (source).
So we can't say that the girl in "Girl" is Kincaid, but we can probably guess that she's a lot like Kincaid was when she was a young girl. Knowing that, and knowing that Kincaid grew up in poverty in Antigua with a strained relationship with her mom, helps us to put a backstory to "Girl" that might not be obvious otherwise.
It might seem weird to say that "Girl" is a coming-of-age story since nothing happens, and coming-of-age stories normally follow a protagonist from childhood to adulthood. With a story like this, you have to have finesse.
Did you notice that in the beginning Mom only gives Girl commands, like "don't sing benna in Sunday school," or "soak salt fish overnight before you cook it" (11, 7)? And then later, Mom seems to be teaching Girl how to do things instead, when all her sentences start with "this is how"? It sounds a lot like she's giving commands to a little girl at first—and actually begins teaching her as she's able to understand.
And don't forget about what she starts teaching her. We're pretty sure the girl who is told "Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap" is a lot older by the time Mom teaches her, "this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child" (1, 42).
Before we talk about Postmodernism, check out our literature glossary entry. We'll wait.
Back? Okay, so now that you are all edumacated about postmodernism, what's this got to do with this odd thing Kincaid has published?
Well, have you read it? It's one long sentence, with no action, no description, and no clear plot. That makes this a postmodern work in our book.
Yep, another of those "post" words. Head over to the literature glossary to check this one out, too.
Okay, so what makes this a postcolonial work? In our "Setting" section, we talk about how life in Antigua means switching between worlds—Antiguan culture and white culture. Well, part of postmodernism is also critiquing, messing with, or debunking what could be considered the "main narrative" or what everyone has accepted as the main story.
In Kincaid's case, the "main narrative" would be a British and male-dominated society where certain types of women become sluts. But the end of "Girl" mixes things up just a little. Mom is both holding up and knocking down the "main narrative" with all the things that she is teaching Girl. Ironing pants? Totally appropriate for a good little colonial girl. "Throwing away" a baby? Not exactly patriarchy-approved.
Publishing a story in The New Yorker about your now-so-awesome experiences growing up as a subject of the British Empire? Definitely not approved.