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The Girl (1996) by Jamaica Kincaid: A Captivating Summary

The Girl (1996) by Jamaica Kincaid: A Captivating Summary

“The Girl” is a short story written by Jamaica Kincaid in 1996. The story is a conversation between a mother and her daughter, in which the mother gives her daughter advice on how to behave and act like a proper lady. The story is captivating in its simplicity and the way it captures the complex relationship between a mother and her daughter. In this article, we will provide a summary of “The Girl” and explore its themes and significance.

Background Information

Jamaica Kincaid’s The Girl was first published in The New Yorker in 1978 and later included in her collection of short stories, At the Bottom of the River. The story is a brief but powerful monologue between a mother and daughter, in which the mother offers a series of instructions and warnings to her daughter about how to behave and present herself in public. The story is set in Antigua, where Kincaid was born and raised before moving to the United States. Kincaid’s writing often explores themes of colonialism, gender, and identity, and The Girl is no exception. The story has been widely anthologized and is considered a classic of contemporary Caribbean literature.


The setting of “The Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid is a small island in the Caribbean. The story takes place in a single day, as a mother gives her daughter advice on how to behave and act like a proper lady. The island is described as lush and tropical, with vibrant colors and scents. The mother and daughter walk through the streets, passing by vendors selling fruits and vegetables, and encountering other islanders going about their daily routines. The setting plays an important role in the story, as it reflects the cultural and societal expectations placed upon the young girl.

Main Characters

The main character in Jamaica Kincaid’s “The Girl” is a young girl who is being given advice by her mother. The girl is never named, but her mother’s words are sharp and critical. The girl is trying to learn how to be a proper lady, but her mother’s expectations are high and seemingly impossible to meet. The girl is frustrated and confused by her mother’s words, but she tries her best to follow them. Throughout the story, the girl’s character develops as she struggles to understand her mother’s expectations and find her own identity.

Plot Summary

The Girl by Jamaica Kincaid is a short story that revolves around a mother-daughter relationship. The story is set in an unnamed Caribbean island, and the narrator is a mother who is giving her daughter advice on how to behave and act like a proper lady. The mother’s advice is a series of commands and instructions that are meant to teach the daughter how to be a good woman. The daughter is silent throughout the story, and the mother’s voice dominates the narrative. The story ends with the mother telling the daughter to walk ahead of her, and the daughter obediently follows. The story is a powerful commentary on the expectations placed on women in patriarchal societies and the ways in which these expectations are passed down from one generation to the next.


One of the most prominent themes in “The Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid is the idea of cultural identity and the struggle to maintain it. The protagonist, a young girl, is constantly bombarded with instructions and expectations from her mother on how to behave and present herself in a way that is deemed appropriate for their culture. This pressure to conform to societal norms is a common experience for many individuals who come from cultures with strict traditions and expectations.

Another theme that is explored in the story is the relationship between mothers and daughters. The mother in the story is portrayed as a strict and overbearing figure who is constantly criticizing and correcting her daughter’s behavior. This dynamic is a common one in many families, and Kincaid’s portrayal of it is both relatable and poignant.

Finally, the story also touches on the theme of gender roles and expectations. The mother’s instructions to her daughter are largely centered around how to behave as a proper young woman, and the story highlights the ways in which gender roles can be limiting and oppressive. This theme is particularly relevant in today’s society, where there is an ongoing conversation about gender equality and the need to break down traditional gender roles and expectations.

Colonialism and Postcolonialism

Jamaica Kincaid’s The Girl (1996) is a powerful piece of literature that explores the themes of colonialism and postcolonialism. The story is set in Antigua, a small island in the Caribbean that was once a British colony. Through the eyes of a mother, the story depicts the struggles of a young girl who is being raised in a society that is still grappling with the legacy of colonialism. The mother’s advice to her daughter is a reflection of the cultural norms and expectations that have been passed down from generation to generation. The story is a poignant reminder of the lasting impact of colonialism on the psyche of a people and the importance of breaking free from its constraints.

Gender Roles and Expectations

In “The Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, the narrator provides a list of instructions to a young girl on how to behave and carry herself as a woman. The piece highlights the gender roles and expectations placed on women in society, particularly in the Caribbean. The narrator emphasizes the importance of domestic duties, such as cooking and cleaning, and warns against behaviors that may be seen as promiscuous or unladylike. This reinforces the idea that women are expected to be submissive and obedient, and that their worth is tied to their ability to fulfill traditional gender roles. The piece serves as a commentary on the societal pressures and expectations placed on women, and the ways in which these expectations can limit their autonomy and agency.

Mother-Daughter Relationships

In “The Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid, the relationship between a mother and daughter is explored through a series of instructions given by the mother to her daughter. The instructions range from how to properly set a table to how to behave in public. While the instructions may seem mundane, they reveal the underlying tension and expectations that exist between the two characters. The mother’s strict adherence to tradition and societal norms clashes with the daughter’s desire for independence and self-expression. This tension is a common theme in mother-daughter relationships, as daughters often struggle to find their own identity while still trying to please their mothers. Kincaid’s portrayal of this dynamic is both relatable and thought-provoking, making “The Girl” a captivating read for anyone interested in exploring the complexities of family relationships.


Symbolism plays a significant role in Jamaica Kincaid’s “The Girl.” The story is filled with various symbols that represent the expectations and restrictions placed on women in society. For instance, the mother’s instructions to the girl about how to behave and dress are symbolic of the societal norms that women are expected to adhere to. The mother’s emphasis on cleanliness and tidiness is also symbolic of the pressure on women to maintain a certain image. Additionally, the mention of the “slut” and “whore” in the story is symbolic of the double standards that exist in society when it comes to women’s sexuality. Overall, the use of symbolism in “The Girl” adds depth and meaning to the story, highlighting the struggles and limitations faced by women in society.

Writing Style and Techniques

Jamaica Kincaid’s writing style in “The Girl” is both captivating and unique. She uses a stream-of-consciousness technique to convey the inner thoughts and anxieties of the protagonist, a young girl who is being instructed on how to behave in society by her mother. Kincaid’s use of repetition and short, fragmented sentences creates a sense of urgency and tension in the narrative. Additionally, her vivid descriptions of the girl’s surroundings and the objects in her environment add depth and texture to the story. Overall, Kincaid’s writing style and techniques in “The Girl” make for a powerful and memorable reading experience.

Critical Reception

The Girl by Jamaica Kincaid has received mixed reviews from critics. Some have praised the author’s ability to capture the complexities of mother-daughter relationships and the struggles of growing up in a patriarchal society. Others have criticized the story for being too short and lacking in depth.

One common criticism of The Girl is that it is too focused on the surface-level details of the mother’s instructions to her daughter, without delving deeper into the underlying emotions and motivations behind them. However, others argue that this is precisely what makes the story so powerful – by leaving much unsaid, Kincaid allows readers to fill in the gaps with their own experiences and interpretations.

Despite these mixed reviews, The Girl remains a popular and widely-read work of fiction, and continues to be studied and analyzed in literature courses around the world. Whether you love it or hate it, there’s no denying that this short story packs a powerful punch.

Impact and Significance

The impact and significance of Jamaica Kincaid’s “The Girl” lies in its ability to shed light on the complexities of mother-daughter relationships and the cultural expectations placed on women. Through the use of a simple yet powerful dialogue between a mother and daughter, Kincaid captures the essence of the struggles faced by women in patriarchal societies. The story highlights the importance of language and the role it plays in shaping our identities and perceptions of the world around us. “The Girl” is a poignant reminder of the power dynamics that exist within families and the need for open communication and understanding. Its relevance extends beyond the Caribbean context in which it is set, making it a timeless piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers around the world.

Comparisons to Other Works by Kincaid

In comparison to other works by Jamaica Kincaid, The Girl (1996) stands out for its brevity and simplicity. Unlike her longer novels such as Annie John and Lucy, The Girl is a short story that can be read in just a few minutes. However, despite its length, the story is still able to convey Kincaid’s signature themes of colonialism, gender roles, and the complexities of mother-daughter relationships. Additionally, The Girl shares similarities with Kincaid’s non-fiction work A Small Place, which also explores the effects of colonialism on the Caribbean. Overall, The Girl is a powerful example of Kincaid’s ability to pack a punch in a small package.

Adaptations and Interpretations

One of the most notable adaptations of Jamaica Kincaid’s “The Girl” is a short film directed by Maya Cozier. Released in 2019, the film brings the story to life through stunning visuals and a powerful performance by the lead actress. Cozier’s interpretation of the text emphasizes the themes of gender roles and societal expectations, while also adding a modern twist with the use of technology and social media. The film has received critical acclaim and has been screened at several film festivals around the world. This adaptation serves as a testament to the enduring relevance of Kincaid’s work and its ability to inspire new forms of artistic expression.

Controversies and Criticisms

One of the main controversies surrounding The Girl is its portrayal of the relationship between the protagonist and her mother. Some critics argue that Kincaid’s depiction of the mother as strict and overbearing perpetuates negative stereotypes about Caribbean mothers. Others argue that the novel is a powerful critique of the ways in which colonialism and patriarchy have shaped Caribbean family dynamics. Additionally, some readers have criticized the novel for its use of a stream-of-consciousness narrative style, which can be difficult to follow at times. Despite these criticisms, The Girl remains a powerful and thought-provoking work of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.

Analysis of Key Passages

One of the most striking passages in Jamaica Kincaid’s The Girl is the opening line: “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry.” This seemingly mundane instruction from a mother to her daughter is actually a powerful commentary on the gender roles and expectations placed on women in Antiguan society. The mother’s list of chores continues, each one reinforcing the idea that a woman’s worth is tied to her ability to maintain a clean and orderly household. Through this passage, Kincaid highlights the oppressive nature of patriarchal systems and the ways in which they limit women’s autonomy and potential.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does the protagonist’s relationship with her mother shape her identity and worldview?.
  2. What role does colonialism play in the novel, and how does it affect the characters’ lives?.
  3. How does the protagonist’s experience as a domestic worker in the United States compare to her life in Antigua?.
  4. What themes does Kincaid explore in the novel, and how do they relate to larger societal issues?.
  5. How does the novel challenge traditional notions of gender roles and expectations?.
  6. What is the significance of the title “The Girl,” and how does it relate to the protagonist’s journey throughout the novel?.
  7. How does Kincaid use language and imagery to convey the protagonist’s emotions and experiences?.
  8. What is the significance of the ending of the novel, and what does it suggest about the protagonist’s future?.

Further Reading

For those interested in exploring more of Jamaica Kincaid’s work, her novel “Annie John” is a great place to start. It follows the coming-of-age story of a young girl growing up in Antigua, and explores themes of identity, family, and colonialism. Another recommended read is “Lucy,” which tells the story of a young woman who leaves her home in the Caribbean to work as an au pair in the United States. Kincaid’s writing is known for its lyrical prose and powerful exploration of complex themes, making her a must-read for fans of contemporary literature.