How Jamaica Kincaid’s Life Affected Her Writing

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Jamaica Kincaid is an astounding author who became known for her first short story collection that was based around tales of the Caribbean. Kincaid is a strong, and unapologetic woman. Growing up part African and Caribbean has caused her to face some troubles others might not ever have to face. In the Caribbean, men are more valued, women are the care takers and just do what they are told. The education of woman gets put on hold, and they are held to a higher standard by the men. Kincaid deserves much more recognition for her work and should be studied, because she takes pride in being the woman that she is despite all the odds against her; expresses herself through her writing; and she does not limit herself to a particular writing style.

Since Kincaid’s education was the least of her parents worries, they were not very fond of her writing, in fact they disapproved of it. Therefore, it was very easy for Kincaid to come to the decision to change her name (Cudjoe and Kincaid 399). Jamaica Kincaid’s real name is Elaine Potter Richardson. Kincaid came up with the name sort of as a joke with her girlfriends, but it unexpectedly became something more important to her. Kincaid said, “…The name Elaine always seemed stupid…My new name unconsciously had the significance I wanted it to since that’s the area of the world I’m from.” Kincaid wanted to be connected to her homeland a little bit more and that is what helped influence the name change (Vorda and Kincaid 60). The name Jamaica Kincaid was also a way for her to be able to freely write about whatever she wanted without the people of Antigua and her parents knowing it was her. Her thoughts were now unlimited, and this was the one thing they could not take from her. In a way Kincaid sort of broke boundaries.

The people of her homeland were unaccepting of a woman trying to pursue an education, and that’s exactly what she did despite what others might have said. Kincaid left Antigua for New York because, “…of economic reasons..” Kincaid and her family thought with her going away she would be able to help support them financially while working as a maid in New York. While working in New York she had hoped to try and get an education, because of course, in Antigua the chances of that happening would be very slim. Kincaid did not have the support system she wanted from her family so going away seemed like a great opportunity for her to pursue what she wanted without limitations. Unfortunately, as usual that got put on hold to help her family (Vorda and Kincaid 61). Growing up, the education of Kincaid’s brothers was put before hers, so her pursuing an education was a big deal.

The people of the Caribbean were also highly looked down upon because of a myth that they were Cannibals. In a journal entry, Morris states, “…Columbus’s naming of the people he encountered in the Caribbean birthed an etymological entanglement between his perception of their social behavior that the word ‘Carib’ became so “ideologically congealed as to seem unproblematically to designate an anthropological reality”; in effect, he created and named a myth; what I name for the rhetorical purposes of this paper, the Carib/ cannibal myth.” Kincaid responds to this myth with the novel, “…The Autobiography Of My Mother, Xuela Richardson is born at the moment her mother, a carib-woman, dies. Xuela laments: “[m]y mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and eternity; at my back was always a bleak, black wind.” In this novel Kincaid establishes a metaphor of “…sexual devouring as a response to colonial history’s objectifying representation of the Carib people as ravenously sexual and cannibalistic” (Morris 954). Imagine a myth that has been lingering around since Columbus’s discovery of the Caribbean? That myth has a huge impact on the people of the Caribbean.

As a child, Jamaica Kincaid has always had a great imagination, and an outstanding memory. Kincaid’s strong imagination is what made her lie while growing up, for her it was a way to protect herself (Vorda and Kincaid 63). Kincaid said, “They tried to beat the truth out of me, sometimes literally, by giving me a spanking- no, a beating! (There is great cruelty to children in the West Indies)”(Vorda and Kincaid 63). Kincaid was unable to just naturally remember things and naturally have a great imagination or she would get in trouble for it. No child deserves to get abused, but unfortunately this is one of the many things Kincaid has had to endure. Through out all of this, Kincaid does not feel different about herself or where she has come from. To her “…it just seems to be sort of happenstance that she was born with black skin and all other things she was born with” (Vorda and Kincaid 50). Kincaid is very headstrong and does not fret over situations she can not control, such as not being able to work on her education, rumors of the people within her homeland, and abuse. Kincaid continues to rise and become an even stronger individual.

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In between a lot of Kincaid’s stories you can find a few similarities within them. Readers get a sense of trauma, loss, and betrayal throughout her short stories. These fictional stories were Kincaid’s way of expressing herself and her thoughts. Although Kincaid loves her homeland, there is still this strong grudge she holds towards Antigua for letting the British “invade” their culture and everything they held dear to them. Kincaid implemented this into her writing. In a journal entry Gregg says, “Much has been made of Jamaica Kincaid’s anger, it seems as though her status of a “post- colonial writer” depends on this anger- an anger directed toward Europe’s role in the West Indies and the Eurocentric construction of the history in the West Indies” (Gregg 920).

When the British colonized India, that really enraged Jamaica. Kincaid felt as though the British were trying to turn Antigua into something it was not by completely disregarding their entire culture. This plays a big role in her writing (Seligman 12). In two of Kincaid’s short stories she is consistent with this theme of betrayal. In At The Bottom Of The River, “a young girl yearns for an impossible return to the perfect world that existed before the ‘betrayal’ of birth and for union where a mother figure will “every night, over and over,…tell me something that begins, ‘Before you were born’” She portrays the mother as the villan here (Simmons 1). In Annie John, the young girl is her mother’s prized possession until she hits puberty and her mother suddenly turns on her. Annie John is related to the “…colonial system, in pretending to nurture the child, actually steals her from herself” (Simmons 1). In these short stories particularly, she uses historical criticism to tell her perspective of the historic moment that forever changed Antigua and of course herself. The theme of betrayal in those two stories represent the sense of betrayal that Kincaid felt after the effects of the British colonialism.

The impact the British colonialism had on Kincaid’s writing gave her a reason to express her rage, this gave her readers an understanding of her perspective throughout all of this. Kincaid’s identity has changed as a result of the implemented English cultural practices that later set the tone for her work. In another story of Kincaid’s, Girl “The reader gets the impression that the story is about a girl who is in training. She is training to be a woman, and these household chores- on the surface anyway- are what a woman does”(Dutton 407). In a journal entry, Byerman says, “The ritualization of speech suggest a conscious initiation into the expected behaviors of a woman in the culture. It also indicates the nature of this culture. It is a society in which public forms are very important and in which subtle differences among those forms are also significant …To be a good Antiguan woman means to know how to maneuver appropriately within a Eurocentric culture” (Byerman 96). This was completely normal in Antigua, Kincaid says, “What the mother in the story sees as aids to living in the world, the girl might see as extraordinary oppression, which is one of the things I came to see” (Vorda and Kincaid 56). This is another way Kincaid broke societies boundaries, she wanted to be a “self-possessed woman”(Vorda and Kincaid 56).

In the Caribbean women were the care takers, they did everything a man did not feel the need to do. They were the housewives and never felt the need to even bother with an education. A woman trying to pursue an education was highly frowned upon, it just was not normal. Kincaid is a realest, and she does not have this big positive outlook on life. She is only “…interested in pursing a truth, and the truth seems to be not happiness but its opposite” in which she tells through her stories (Seligman 12). There is always something deeper in her stories that one will only be able to understand through learning about Jamaica Kincaid and her experiences. The reader can then see the way she incorporates that into her writing.

Jamaica Kincaid is a well loved writer though, she does not like to “have any fixed view, or any fixed understanding…” of her writing (Kincaid and Buckner 461). Every author has their own writing style. Kincaid has written many stories about her experiences as a black woman growing up in the Caribbean, problems such as poverty, and sacrifices that she has had to face that all influenced her writing. In an interview with Brittany Buckner, Kincaid goes through her mindset during her writing process, she says “I suspect everything is different. Everything I write, I don’t have any set form for it. Everything sets its own rhythm, everything I am writing” (Kincaid and Buckner 461). “I’m always writing in my head, whether I’m sitting down or even sleeping” (Kincaid and Buckner 462). It more so just comes to her and as soon as it does she does not immediately start writing away. She does not write anything down unless she is absolutely certain that this topic is worth writing about (Kincaid and Buckner 463). Writing about something that came to mind every single time would be entirely too time consuming.

In one of her novels, In The Night the narrator bounces around between sexes. Kincaid says, “…I really wanted to disregard certain boundaries, certain conventions. These are the stories in which I had endless amounts of time to consider all sorts of things and endless amounts of silence and space and distance. I could play with forms and identities…” This is what makes Kincaid different as an author, she makes “…the most ordinary events become extraordinary” (Vorda and Kinciad 57). Kincaid says, “Whatever I may say about being black, Caribbean, or female when I’m sitting down at the typewriter, I am not that…It’s stupid to call anyone by these names.” When writing, Kincaid does not feel the need to define each and every race of those in the fictional story she is writing about. She does not feel it is necessary to limit herself to those specific terms (Vorda and Kincaid 53). When Kincaid first began writing she did not necessarily consider herself a writer, because she felt as thought she did not follow the “rules” of writing. Kincaid said, “I am so happy to write I don’t care what you call it” she just let her thoughts flow and that was that (Ferguson, Kincaid 166). This writing process is how Kincaid’s short stories and novels came to be about.

Kincaid’s work deserves much more recognition and should be studied, because Kincaid takes pride in being the woman that she is even through all of her experiences she continues to rise; she expresses herself in her writing with out the fear of judgement; and lastly Kincaid does not limit herself to a particular writing style. Kincaid is unapologetically herself despite the absolute power the men of Antigua held over their women. Kincaid found ways to express the pain and anger she felt through the British colonialism, rumors of the Caribbean people being cannibals, and poverty through her writing. Kincaid has expressed herself about the worst things that have happened to her, and then turned those into amazing stories. If Kincaid can rise from the life that she has lived there is no reason no one else should be able to do the same.

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