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Jamaica Kincaid - an American Caribbean Writer

Jamaica Kincaid (1949) is born in Antigua, an island in the West Indies. Even though she has been settled in the USA for the better part of her life, in her stories she continually draws upon her past experiences from this small island in the sun and its colonial past.

Author Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid

Like many of Kincaid's protagonists, Mrs Sweet is born in Antigua. In the novel, See Now Then, Mrs Sweet is married into an all-American white family, and they insist on seeing her as coming straight from the banana boat. In this interview (approx. 8 min.), you will hear the author explain why she does not think that Mrs Sweet's family is racist in their assumptions about their daughter-in-law. Kincaid is also annoyed about people reading autobiography into all her texts. In the interview she reads an excerpt from See Now Then.

Interview with Jamaica Kincaid

After listening to the interview, you should consider these questions:

  1. Why does Jamaica Kincaid not appreciate critics claiming that her texts are autobiographical?
  2. The protagonists in the story are the Sweet family. How is this name ironic?
  3. How does Jamaica Kincaid respond when the interviewer characterizes Mrs Sweet's family as racist?

The Short Story, "Girl"

"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; don't walk barehead in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off;...."

This is the beginning of Kincaid's debut work - her short story, "Girl", which was released in the collection At the Bottom of the River. Many of Kincaid's texts depict a mother and daughter relationship. Reputedly Kincaid struggled hard to come to terms with her own mother. In "Girl" a mum is obviously very concerned about what her daughter should and should not do. Before you start reading the short story, consider these questions:

  1. Why do you think the mother wants to advise her daughter? What are her concerns?
  2. What does she mean by "your little cloths"?
  3. What kind of future does it seem that the girl's mother has in mind for her daughter?
  4. Why do we instantly feel that this is a "different" culture?
  5. What do you think about such a way of opening a short story?
  6. Is there something universal in this situation; about parents wanting to adivse their offspring?

By following this link, you may read the short story (687 words) and listen to the author reading it "Girl" by Jamaica Kincaid

Literary Analysis of "Girl"

Useful link: Fictional Elements, Fictional Elements in "Girl"

  1. It is maintained that this story does not have a plot. How so? Do you agree?
  2. How does the character develop? If you use the link provided, you will find parts of the text that are highlighted, where we "between the lines" get access to information about "Girl". Who is she?
  3. How does the point of view function in the story? Examine the link, and see which parts are highlighted. What is revealed about the point of view here?
  4. How would you describe the style, tone and language in the text? Comment on the underlined parts in the text (see link).
  5. What would you expect in a short story, that you do not get in this story? Why do you think some people perceive "Girl" as poetry?

Jamaica Kincaid's Work and Cultural Context

By following this link, you will find information about Antigua and its colonial history Jamaica Kincaid - Cultural Context

  1. Antigua has been a part of the British Empire. Can you trace the British cultural influence in "Girl"?
  2. Slaves worked on the numerous plantations. How do you think this is reflected in Antiguan culture? Use "Girl" as a basis.
  3. "Girl" might be seen as a critical comment to gender roles and socioeconomic status in Antigua. How so?

In-Depth Study

Explore this curricular aim from your International English course of study:

  • reflect on how cultural differences and dissimilar value systems can affect communication

Use the novel excerpts provided here [i]A Small Place[/i] and [i]See Now Then[/i] and the short story "Girl" as a basis for your discussion of this topic. You will find information about the Caribbean island, its slave history and colonial past here Jamaica Kincaid - Cultural Context. If you follow the sublinks, you may find questions that might prove useful.

Present your findings in an essay or a presentation.