Short Story of the Month: Girl by Jamaica Kincaid

Welcome to the first Short Story of the Month!

This month we will look at the short story, Girl by Jamaica Kincaid!

What is the short story about?

Girl by Jamaica Kincaid is so many things rolled in one, actually two pages. In essence, it is a bunch of instructions unloaded by a mother onto her daughter. The story begins with instructions on how to wash white clothes. They then talk about how the mother is teaching her skills such as sewing a button or growing okra. The instructions also cover a set of behaviours that a girl would be expected to follow such as how to eat and walk like a lady or even how to smile. We hear the daughter’s voice only twice. Once she is meekly contradicting her mothers assumption that she sings benna on Sunday and the second time, at the end, when she is posing a question to her mother.

Analysis:

Girl takes a good hard look at a mother and daughter relationship. There are a several specific references to Antiguan culture and as with Kincaid’s other work, critics have pointed out the autobiographical elements in this story too, yet the story does resonate with the idea of how mothers impose on their daughters the patriarchal expectations of society. Daughters thus grow up to be passive and unquestioning just as patriarchy would like them too!

It is also an indictment of mothers who perpetuate this cycle (in the story we do see how the mother carries assumptions that her daughter will surely become a slut). Yet at the same time, it also goes to show how the society traps mothers in this role of brainwashing their own daughters and by extension playing a major part in their dis-empowerment. Mothers know what society holds for their daughters when they grow up and they believe that the easiest way to fit in and be accepted into society is to follow their discriminatory norms. Thus, though the mother comes across as an overbearing figure in this story, one can also interpret the mother herself as a victim trapped in the vicious cycle of gender expectations. She does not know any other world and so passes on her own knowledge of how to be a woman to her own daughter.

Where to read it?

Find the short story here or here. Read and enjoy! I promise it will not take more than 15 minutes to read and process this short story.

Let us know in the comments below what you thought about the short story!

Happy Reading!


This is part of the series called, Short Story of the Month. Click here to find out more!

Glimpsing Mumbai

Short stories are usually good,easy read proffering an anecdote,a glimpse into someone’s life, drawing you in that story and leaving you satisfied of having dabbled in their life. ‘Window Seat‘ by Janhavi Acharekar is a collection of short stories that have the same effect on the reader. There are 30 short stories-each revealing a different side of human nature, emotions, of India, of Mumbai and each is well crafted, well written and always ending with a concrete resolution-absent in many other short stories that often mar the story’s charm. But not Acharekar-she is one brilliant writer, way better than the popular Chetan Bhagat or any other IIT/IIM students turned writers we see today in India.

Taken from amazon.com

Each of her short story explores a new idea, divulges the good, the bad and the ugly of Mumbai city. And none are cliched. They are simple, realistic, displaying the daily lives of many common folks of the city-their struggles, their fights, their dreams, their feelings, their worries, their happiness-almost everything under the sun. It is this portrayal of the daily, everyday, mundane aspect of people’s lives polished with Acharekar’s fine, creative imagination, that makes each story is distinctive and unique. The readers will connect to atleast one short story because Janhavi Acharekar covers everything-from the slum life, to the middle class worries to the high class celebrity to the party life-everything that together comprises the reader’s perception of Mumbai.

The stories have varied themes, ranging from a couple searching for the perfect flat/home in Mumbai, a freedom fighter’s popularity in his Girgaum neighbourhood, a unique event at Mumbai Central Station, the cause of a riot, a teacher’s wistful memories of her old school days, a cyberspace love relationship, an art preview, four women’s lives in Mumbai’s lifeline-the local train and so many more.  Giving a full detailed description of each story would kill the joy of reading it on one’s own.

Now you might ask, why would one want to read about the daily life of Mumbaikars? Simply because, one can connect with them and also because, the writer plainly, economically, straightforwardly puts her story across, accessing our hearts and moving us too!

The book, ‘Window Seat‘  is divided into 2 parts. While the first part has unconnected stories, the second part is further subdivided into 3 parts and the stories in each of the 3 parts are connected to each other in terms of their setting and characters and not necessarily continuity.

There are a few disheartening aspects of the book as well. Firstly, some stories go back in time, see Mumbai nostalgically and not con temporarily which is good in a few stories but not always. Also, some stories are not even set in the 21st century. They have an old world charm to it which again is not necessarily a bad thing but a more contemporary setting would do better with many newcomers to the city and other too. Besides there are far too many Mumbai novels that nostalgically always stay in a bygone Mumbai that will definitely never come back again. So why bother writing pages and pages if so much has already been written about it? Secondly, some stories tilt only towards South Mumbai not bothering to explore North and Navi Mumbai. Thirdly,the title, ‘Window Seat‘ is also misleading suggesting that the book has stories set in the Mumbai locals, when in fact there are myriad settings to each story.

Besides those few points, ‘Window Seat‘ is a marvellous novel the keeps you wanting for more. Acharekar’s lucid writing, her non-romanticized notions of Mumbai and her brilliant story telling ability make the book worth reading it. Wish she writes more such books and hopes she becomes more popular and widely read because a good writer like her definitely deserves it!

Here’s a toast to good contemporary Indian English writing!