Girl by Jamaica Kincaid, 1978
The magic trick:
Using a second-person, how-to format
It’s Jamaica Kincaid week on the website. Notice I’m not starting it around Mother’s Day. These stories, pulled from her brief but powerful collection, At The Bottom Of The River, do not paint the sweetest portrait of mother-daughter relationships. Kincaid’s work always seems to wrestle with that dynamic, and Lord is it complicated.
As we saw many blog posts ago, Junot Diaz employs the same second-person, instructions-for-life format in his “How To Date A Brown Girl” that Kincaid uses so effectively here. The further genius lies in the variety of directives – some actually quite helpful for a young girl growing up and some quite oppressing in their adherence to questionable social norms. It becomes a fascinating portrait of a culture. And that’s quite a trick on Kincaid’s part.
… this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming; this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt so that it doesn’t have a crease; this is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have a crease; this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants; when you are growing dasheen, make sure it gets plenty of water or else it makes your throat itch when you are eating it; this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much; this is how you smile to someone you don’t like at all; this is how you smile to someone you like completely;…
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