by Jamaica Kincaid
Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Plot? What plot? Since "Girl" has no exposition, no narrator, no description, and no setting, the idea of plot works just a little bit differently in the world of “Girl."
You know, since plot normally means something is happening.
Still, Kincaid manages to subtly imply change through her words without us actually seeing that change, and that is a super spiffy magic trick. Even though we don’t see the girl or mother, we can tell that their relationship is changing and growing.
Do What Mamma Says, Or Else
We have no idea who this speaker is at first, or whom she's talking to, but someone is giving someone else a whole bunch of chores. To be honest, at this point it sounds a lot like someone giving orders to a servant.
Bad to the Bone
Turns out, not just a servant, since the orders aren't just chores anymore: now we're getting into a whole area of reputation. The voice accuses the person of some bad stuff, saying “on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming” and “don’t sing benna in Sunday school” (10-11). Suddenly, things aren’t so simple. Also, we’re getting the idea that this is a mom talking to her teenage daughter.
Finally, another voice joins in. We’re guessing it’s the daughter, because she tries to defend herself. She says “but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school" (14)—not that mom even notices. She just goes on with her list of chores like nothing even happened. So why is this a turning point? Finally, the girl has a voice in this whole poem that is supposedly about her. About time.
Okay. Now things get a bit…odd. Mom starts giving some advice that's a bit less than kosher. How to spit in the air? How to have an abortion? This isn't Grandma's Pearls of Wisdom, but it feels like the mom is getting nicer and less combative with the girl. Kind of. Maybe.
After All That…
“Girl” ends with two phrases, “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?” (52-53).
After 52 items of mom’s sage advice, the girl still doesn’t get it. She's so focused on the details that she's missing Mom's overall point: these aren't just a bunch of arbitrary rules (although, they kind of are), they're a way for Girl to conform to the standards of her culture. Simple: don't be a slut. By ending with the recurring theme of sluttishness (yep, totally a word), the ending ties up the proem (prose-poem). It feels satisfying—but it also feels like a mean way for the mom to get the last word.