Jamaica Kincaid. “Girl”. Her Life. Born in Antigua, May 1949 HAD a close relationship with her mother Didn’t do well in Antigua under British colonial rule, especially in school. Moved to America when she was 17 Worked as an au pair and studied photography
Born in Antigua, May 1949
HAD a close relationship with her mother
Didn’t do well in Antigua under British colonial rule, especially in school.
Moved to America when she was 17
Worked as an au pair and studied photography
Became a regular contributor for New Yorker magazine
Where does she “fit in”
Kincaid’s writing can be placed in different spots in a curriculum.
Her writing style (prose poem) allows her work to be included in a poetry section.
I would study her work during a creative nonfiction unit. Though her work is in the form of the poem, the content is that of a memoir, a creative way to do an autobiography.
Her writing reflects on the hardships she faced throughout her childhood and early adolescence.
Her writing is a mix between autobiographical and fiction, certain pieces highlight different aspects of her life.
Her writing is composed of simple sentences, almost lyrical, but they contain a lot of emotion and represent a lot of issues including: gender, colonialism, a stressed mother-daughter relationship, and poverty.
Problems in Teaching “Girl”
Because of Kincaid’s simple but “heavy” prose poems, students could have trouble looking past the face value.
Might be easier for students to grasp the issues because the issues in Kincaid’s work are ones still prominent today.
In “Girl” exclusively, girls may have an easier time understanding and relating to the prose poem rather than boys.
“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
“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; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn't have gum on it, because that way it won't hold up well after a wash; soak salt fish overnight before you cook it; is it true that you sing benna in Sunday school?; always eat your food in such a way that it won't turn someone else's stomach; on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming; don't sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn't speak to wharf–rat boys, not even to give directions; don't eat fruits on the street—flies will follow you; but I don't sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school…”
Stylistically: the language incorporated Caribbean culture, the rhythm of the poem was very past (especially the punctuation), dreamlike repetition throughout the poem drew me in.
First reading: the poem was about a girl who was forced to learn how to care for her family because of their poverty status and it caused a stressed relationship between her and her mother.
After Learning about Kincaid’s Life
Understood reason for the mother’s distant tone in the story and took that as Kincaid’s reflection on her own relationship with her mother as a child.
Also took the “mother-daughter” relationship and applied it to the issue of colonialism in her childhood. The mother’s directions are very militaristic and it could be Kincaid’s reflection on the relationship of “mother country” Britain and her “daughter island”.
The fast pace and the punctuation helps bring on the commanding tone of the mother’s voice, both Kincaid’s mother and Britain.
The dreamlike repetition makes her writing feel like a Kincaid is wiriting down a nightmare she is reliving.
Pre Writing Activity
Before reading “Girl” or learning about Kincaid’s life I would have the students do a lengthy free write (about half the class) describing a relationship they had with one of their family members during their childhood, either close of distant. I would make sure they included details on how they felt with the person and what the person did to make them feel that way, including specific events they went through. It would almost be a mini-memoir about the relationship between them and the person.
After this free write we would read “Girl”, as well as a short biography on Jamaica Kincaid so that they could see how Kincaid took memories from her childhood and incorporating them into her work and created creative non-fiction/ fiction.
Post Writing Activity
After reading and understanding “Girl” and Kincaid, I would have the students take their free write and give them options on turning their memoir into creative non-fiction. They could create short story based off the two characters, or write a prose poem involving a conversation between themselves and the person they wrote about. The main reason for the activity is for them to see how the author incorporated her life into her work and do it for themselves, creating their own creative non-fiction.