GIRL A Review article by Chandra Shekhar Dubey. ‘Girl’ is an extract from Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘ At the Bottom of the River’. Her works are a critique of colonial history of Antigua.’ Girl ‘ shows the tensed relationship between a mother and her preadolescent daughter. Many of her works are centred around teen aged girls and their emotional problems. In this story she reflects her own complex relationship with her mother. In ‘Autography of a Mother’(1996) she explores the life of a woman faced with abject poverty and who was resentful of her children. ‘Girl’ deals with experience of being young and female in a poor country. It has been described as a prose poem for its intensity of feelings and symbolic significance. Kincaid has explored the themes of the danger of female sexuality, transformative power of domesticity and the strained social and personal relationship between a mother and daughter. She has used motifs of food, cloth and songs to underline the above mentioned themes. The underlying tone of this story is “to throw away a child before it becomes a child.” Even though the daughter doesn’t seem to have reached the adolescence, the mother worries that her current behaviour ,if continued will lead to a life of promiscuity. The mother believes that a woman’s reputation and respectability determines the quality of her life in the community. Sexuality therefore must be guarded .She fills her daughter’s mind with a series of prohibitions without realising that these ghosts of prohibitions would ruin her of her individuality and freedom. The whole story reads as a breathless prescription of do’s and don’ts. She scolds her daughter , the way she walks, the way she plays marbles and the way she relates to other people. The mother’s constant emphasis on this theme shows how much she wants her daughter to realise that she is not a boy. She advises her to act in such a way that will win her respect from the community. The mother is obsessed with the power of domesticity which she imbibes from her own society stricken with poverty and insecurity. The mother believes that domestic knowledge will not only save her daughter from a life of promiscuity and ruin but will also empower her as the head of her household. She basically believes that there are two types of woman ; the respectable type and the sluts .To many Antiguan women household works ,learning daily chores of domesticity such as cooking, sewing, clothing were considered to be very useful. This skill was considered to be socially rewarding in the eyes of the community. The mother repeatedly emphasizes food throughout her lectures to reinforce her belief that happiness comes from domesticity. The acts and art of pumpkin fritters, tea ,bread pudding, doukena , pepper pots lead to greater meanings of life. The repetitive references to food suggest the domesticity and its importance in the life of the woman to run a family. It also shows the urgency and necessity for learning this art to be successful in life. Mother’s sermons are pointer to this social reality to survive in the community. CLOTH and its relationship to appearances and proper housing keeping reappear throughout the story to highlight the importance of respectability. The mother knows that a person’s clothing reveals much about character and personality .Poor clothing, shabbiness and improper dress sense suggest poverty and promiscuity. Cloth is a symbol of morality and organized, well- groomed ,domestic woman. The mother therefore stresses the importance of dress and appearance to save
the daughter from the life if disgrace. The mother therefore stresses the importance of dress and appearance to save the daughter from disgrace and disrespect.
‘Singing Benna in a Sunday school ‘ is central to the theme the narrator is dealing with in this story. Benna is a type of Antiguan folksong which symbolizes sexuality and sung in a loud non- sensical sounds with accompaniment of guitar. It is often critical in tone. The mother fears that the daughter knows too much about the subject of sexuality so she might be tempted to sing Benna. Historically speaking , native Antiguans sang benna secretly spreading rumours and gossips under the uncomprehending British people’s noses. Singing Benna therefore in a Sunday school represents not only disobedience but also sinful. This is a forbidden knowledge that cannot be discussed openly in public ,let alone in church. Even though the daughter may not relate Benna to sexuality as her mother does, her protestations suggest that she knows full well Benna’s seductive power and forbidden quality. The girl’s adamant attitude and denials suggest that she might have sung Benna in Sunday school with her friends and interest in boys as well as a result of mother’s advice and intrusions in her personal life. Kincaid ‘s use of semicolons to separate the mother’s advices and commands creates a prose poem that vividly captures daughter’s conflicting feelings for her mother. The long run-on –sentences, breathless commands create a sense of duty and stifles two-way communication. The voices of the daughter are silent and her voice merges with the voice of the narrator suggesting that they are one and the same person. The daughter uses a few opportunities when she has to protest mother’s speech and belief that she would grow to be a ‘slut’. It is a resentment and suggestive only.The daughter does not use a dialogue here. The whole chronicle of advice reads like a monologue. Twice the daughter’s voice intervenes ,resisting the mother’s scolding but it is not clear where the daughter’s voice come from. The mother’s advice is caustic and castigating. The pre-adolescent girl (daughter) who listens to her mother’s speech and says little against the accusations that she would be a slut. The voice of the mother is stern, commanding, brooking and there is no back- talk. ‘GIRL ‘ shows how gender is socially and culturally constructed by patriarchy and gradually becomes a social reality. It also shows that one is not “born as a woman but becomes a woman”.