Jamaica Kincaid

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Themes and Colors
Gender and Domesticity Theme Icon
Authenticity and Femininity Theme Icon
Sexuality Theme Icon
Caribbean Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Class Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Girl, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Gender and Domesticity

Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” opens with the speaker, Mother, instructing the eponymous girl, presumably her daughter, on how to perform household chores. Though neither character ever addresses the other in a manner that would establish the parent-child relationship, the reader understands the nature of their bond, due to the main speaker’s instructive and scolding voice, as well as the secondary speaker’s interruptions to question the primary speaker’s instructions. The instructions detail the routine tasks…

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Authenticity and Femininity

To be “feminine” often means to embrace modesty, and to privilege good manners over honesty. The girl learns that a woman must be careful not to show too much of her body and not to talk to the wrong kinds of boys. She must know how to be friendly without being too friendly, and certainly not to the wrong people or at the wrong time. She must know how to eat without making it too…

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In “Girl,” Mother’s instructions are peppered with constant warnings and accusations about the girl becoming a slut. Ironically, this is never in the context of sex or promiscuity—instead, the behaviors that Mother suggests will lead to the girl becoming a slut are distinctly non-sexual, while her actual mentions of sexuality are relatively nonjudgmental. Although being a “slut” is apparently the worst thing that the girl could become, Mother does not shy away from…

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Caribbean Culture and Tradition

Part of the girl’s schooling in femininity involves learning the traditions of her West Indian culture: recipes, gardening advice, superstitions, and rules of propriety and self-presentation. “Girl” was published during the liberation of numerous Caribbean islands from European colonial powers and during the development of Postcolonial Studies. While many former colonial subjects were told by their colonizers that their culture was not important and that they lacked the authority to speak and write their…

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Like femininity and race, class is a key factor in determining what the girl’s life will be and what will be expected of her. Kincaid never directly tells the reader that the girl is middle-class, but she implies through the advice that Mother gives that the family is middle-class and that maintaining this status is of vital importance to the girl’s future. As with other aspects of her identity, the girl’s class background determines what…

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