Women's Role In Society In Girl By Jamaica Kincaid
Society had consistently given women strict guidelines, rules, and principles on how to be an appropriate member of a man’s society. These guidelines are set at a young age and enforced thoroughly into adulthood. In “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, the author provides a glimpse of the relationship between a mother and her daughter. In this relationship, the mother tries to instill the behaviors that seem appropriate for a woman. She believes that these guidelines are the perfect definition of a proper woman in society and if not followed could be reprimanded with means of verbal abuse. It’s highlighted in the story the stereotypical responsibilities of young girls which are heavily defined by language, culture, and tradition. The author uses symbols to illustrate how daughters are expected to be domestic and feminine to be respected in society.
First, symbols are used to show how daughters are expected to domestic to be respected in society. Kincaid states, “Cook pumpkin fritters in very hot oil… when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse make sure it doesn’t have gum on it…soak salt fish overnight…” (1). Pumpkins are orange in color and orange represents strength and endurance. A woman is expected to be strong and must be able to endure any situation she may find herself in. This is an attribute the mother is attempting to instill in her daughter. Pumpkins also contain an abundance of seeds and this could symbolize fertility. This could be interpreted as the mother’s desire for her daughter to be fruitful. The pumpkin fritters are instructed to be cooked in very hot sweet oil and this oil can be referred to as olive oil. Naturally, olive oil is green which symbolizes growth. The mother hopes for growth for her daughter. Cotton is white in color and represents purity. It’s also is a very delicate and soft material and that’s how the mother wants her daughter to appear to others. Gum is typically pink in color. This represents compassion and nourishment. The mother wants to instill these qualities in her daughter for her to be able to raise a family. Fish symbolizes health and good luck. It’s stated in Literary Contexts in Short Stories Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ by Kim Becnel, “Religion is one area in which the mother appears to accept her Afro Caribbean heritage, even if out of the view of the British colonizers” (63). The soaking in water could symbolize rebirth when one is baptized. Therefore, the mother yearns for health and good luck with the daughter.
Second, daughters are expected to be domestic to be respected in society. “Wash white clothes on Monday…when you are growing dasheen make sure it gets plenty of water…this is how you set a table for lunch…how to set a table for breakfast” (1-2). The color white in the clothes represents innocence. This can refer to how innocent the mother wants her daughter to be. To begin with, the white color in the clothes can symbolize innocence. This can refer to how innocent the mother wished she’d be. Monday is a symbol for the moon which is also a phallic symbol. It represents security. Monday is also the second day of the week and the number two symbolizes good luck. According to Linguistic-Literary Camouflage in Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” by K. Jayasree, “Dasheen, which causes itching and is to be watered excessively to dilute its potency, could point to the need for women to indulge themselves without drawing social scrutiny or causing irritation in a society which leaves no space for the individual wants and needs of women” (84). Dasheen is a brown yam with cream-colored flesh. This brown color represents protection and comfort while the cream color represents calmness and quietness. Those are also characteristics that the mother is teaching the daughter. Water is a symbol of purity. This can be interpreted as the purity that is expected of the daughter. Lunch is usually served at 12 and this number symbolizes perfection. However, breakfast is served at 7 and the number 7 represents happiness. The mother wants her daughter to be a perfect woman in society and for her to be happy as well.
Thirdly, the mother continues to teach the daughter that being able to do domestic chores is a way to be respected in society. “This is how to make bread pudding…how to make doukona…how to make pepper pot…this is how to catch a fish…” (1). Initially, bread pudding is made with leftover bread that has custard sauce poured over it before baking. Bread is white with a brown crust. The white color symbolizes cleanliness while the brown color symbolizes loyalty. This is interpreted to how a woman should always be clean in a sense and loyal to her husband and family. Custard is yellow in color which represents honor. The mother expects her daughter to bring honor to her family. Doukana is made from fermented white corn. The white color could be a symbol of honesty. Corn comes with an abundance of seeds or kernels. This may represent growth. As said in Mistaking Solipsism for Intimacy: On Rereading Jamaica Kincaid’s ‘Girl’ by Naa Baako Ako-Adjei, “The story manages to convey…the connection between respectability and domestic knowledge, and the tense relationship between a mother and her daughter” (4). The mother is trying to guide her daughter into growing into a respectable woman. Corn also grows on stalks. The stalks are a green color which represents peace. Pepper pot is stewed meat (usually beef) dish that is seasoned with cinnamon, cassareep, and hot peppers. Beef is usually red in color when raw therefore symbolizing the daughter’s energy. Cinnamon is brown in color which represents success and prosperity. Cassareep is a thick black liquid made from cassava root. The black color could symbolize rebellion in the story in the sense that the daughter did want to object to some of the things her mother was instructing. Hot peppers are red, green, and yellow. Red represents passion, green represents renewal, and yellow represents joy. These are attributes that the mother hopes for her daughter. Fish is symbolic of intelligence and it is expected of women to be intelligent. Fish could also be used as a symbol for men. The mother is passing down tips on how to catch the attention of men and ward away the ones that don’t deem fit.
Fourthly, the daughter is expected to be feminine to be able to be accepted in society. “…soak you little clothes right after you take them off… on Sundays try to walk like a lady not like the slut you are… don’t sing benna in Sunday school…” (1). The soaking of the clothes is again a symbol of rebirth. Sunday is a symbol of the sun and is also the first day of the week. The number one symbolizes independence. The sun is a yellow color which represents positivity. As said in A Powerful Look At ‘Girl’ by Jamaica Kincaid” by Day Sibley, “Although the mother’s approach could be seen as bullying, she is preparing her daughter not only for wifely duties but to look appealing for the opposite sex” (4). This correlates to the mother constantly referring to the daughter as a slut although not showing any signs of it. The mother doesn’t want her daughter walking in a sexy way that could attract men subliminally. Benna is an Antiguan folksong that symbolizes sexuality. The mother has a fear that her daughter already knows too much about sex about always calling her a slut. She warns her daughter not to sing benna in Sunday school because this could also represent disobedience.
Fifthly, symbols are used to explain how the mother wants her daughter to be feminine to be respected in society. “…don’t eat fruits on the streets-flies will follow you…be sure to wash every day even if it’s with your own spit…don’t squat down to play marbles…don’t pick people’s flowers…don’t throw stones at blackbirds” (1-2). The setting of this story is probably in the Caribbean and she could be eating a mango. A mango is orange in color which symbolizes attraction. The flies are blue and black. Blue is a symbol of sincerity while the black color could be a symbolize elegance. When the mother advises on washing every day even if it’s with your own spit, can be interpreted as a symbol for keeping one’s reputation intact and there should be no excuse as to not being able to. Marbles are spherical toys usually made of glass and come in a spiral of colors. A sphere is a phallic symbol that represents total wholeness. Glass symbolizes fragility and vulnerability. This is how the mother wants others to treat her daughter. Flowers are a phallic symbol. Blackbirds are a symbol of wisdom and beauty. The color black represents sophistication. This can be interpreted as the mother not wanting her daughter to share her wisdom with others because they might not be who she believes they are.
Sixthly, the author uses symbols to explain how the mother trains her daughter to be more feminine to be accepted in society. “This is how to sew on a button … this is how to iron your father’s khaki shirt … this is how to grow okra … because okra trees harbor red ants…always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh” (1-2). To start, a button is usually circular in shape and this symbolizes an original perfection. The mother expects her daughter to be a virgin because that the original perfection. Buttons also have holes. These holes are a phallic symbol and represent female fertility. The khaki color represents disciplined behavior, independence, and self-control. Okra is thin and curvy in shape and this is how the mother wants her daughter to look. Okra is also green and sometimes red in color. Green represents freshness and the red color represents good luck. In this case, the red color in the ants could represent danger. So, this implies that the mother is trying to advise her daughter about keeping dangerous forces from coming towards her good luck.
In conclusion, a mother’s words are the ones that a child most likely remembers, advice is passed down from generation to generation, and it’s the one from the mother that holds a special place in a child’s memory and heart forever. Expectations and guidelines are set at a young age. Morals and values are learned throughout the years, and life lessons are taught from mother to daughter. Every mother has a wish for their daughter to be the best they can be. In this story, the author uses symbols to illustrate how being domestic and feminine earns a woman respect in society.
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