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Girl by Jamaica Kincaid: Summary, Theme & Analysis

Girl by Jamaica Kincaid: Summary, Theme & Analysis
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  • 0:01 'Girl,' a Prose Poem
  • 0:33 Summary
  • 1:31 Themes and Analysis
  • 3:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brienne Adams

Brienne has taught college level English and has a master's degree in Afro American Studies with a concentration in English Literature.

This lesson will summarize the short prose poem, 'Girl,' by Jamaica Kincaid. Also, this lesson will provide an overview of some central themes and provide analysis for each.

'Girl', a Prose Poem

'Girl' is a prose poem written by Jamaica Kincaid that was published in The New Yorker in 1978.

'Girl' was Kincaid's first piece of published work. Kincaid is from Antigua, and most of her work contains stories of Antiguan life as a colony of Great Britain and as an independent nation dealing with the aftermath of colonial rule. As a woman of African descent, Kincaid explores gender, race and class issues in her work. 'Girl' is no exception and poignantly exemplifies many of these themes.

Let's take a closer look!

Summary

A prose poem reads like prose, but it follows the rules of conventional poetry. The only characters in 'Girl' are a mother and a daughter. 'Girl' is a somewhat of a stream-of-consciousness narrative of a mother giving her young daughter advice on important life issues and concerns. The poem is one long sentence of various commands separated by semi-colons.

The advice consists of how to do certain domestic behaviors, including making Antiguan dishes, as well as the more assertive points of being a respectable woman and upholding sexual purity. There is a lot of discussion from the mother about how the daughter must interact with people as well as how to behave in a romantic relationship with a man.

The daughter only speaks twice in the story. First she stands up for herself against one of her mother's questions that turned into an accusation, and again at the end where she asks her mother a clarifying question. It concludes abruptly with a rhetorical question from the mother wondering if her daughter didn't understand how to behave based on everything she was told.

Themes and Analysis

There are three central themes to the story: sexual reputation, domesticity, and mother/daughter relationships.

First, let's examine sexual reputation in this poem. The mother asserts in three different instances that she wants to protect her daughter from activities that would make her out to be ''…the slut I know that you are so bent on becoming'', and lastly ''…the slut I have warned you against becoming.'' She tells her daughter that she should walk and dress in a certain way, and how to talk to men so they don't suspect her of being sexually promiscuous. The repetition of the phrase is important to note as it centralizes sexual reputation as one of the most important pieces of advice for the entire poem.

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