by Jamaica Kincaid
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Commanding, Authoritative; Defensive, Insecure
We're going with two sets of tones, because there are two voices in this text. Can you guess? Ah, yes, Mom and Girl.
Mom's tone is pretty clear: bossy. With phrases like "cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil" and "be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit," Mom is all business (4, 34), using the imperative mood to bark out orders.
Unless you're much better than we were as kids, you've probably heard this same tone from your own parents once or twice. (And if you were anything like us, it immediately made you want to go and do the exact opposite of what you were told.) Anyway, the point is that we can all put ourselves in Girl's shoes.
Girl's tone is harder to talk about, since, you know, she only speaks twice. That's not much to go on—but it's enough for us. First: "I don't sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school (14). That's it. After a barrage of accusations from Mom, Girl tries to defend herself. We're going to guess that it didn't help anything, since Mom doesn't even seem to notice. But Girl definitely sounds apologetic and defensive here.
She's insecure, too, asking "but what if the baker won't let me feel the bread?" right near the end (52). Maybe he won't let her. Maybe after all she'll still end up the "slut" that her mom keeps telling her she is becoming. With so many rules to follow and so many ways she can go wrong, is it any wonder that she feels insecure? We kind of want to go check all our hems, too.