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A Fly in the Ointment
Jamaica Kincaid created a controversial story Girl, which aptly depicted both the sorrows of the womens life in certain areas and the good habits which a girl can develop to become a nice lady as well as a good wife if she intends to have calm family life where the breadwinner will be a man. Girl is not a discriminating work of all women, rather than a reflective story on how a good young lady is expected to behave in a certain cultural environment. The short piece is quite educative for those who want to promote the customs of a traditional family, however, it can never be called to have a delicate manner of introduction of those rules which make that traditional unit a well-organized family system.
Without having a look at the authors name, one can erroneously presume that it belongs to a hateful man who sees a woman as a source of pleasure, but not an individual of equal rights. Notwithstanding, Jamaica Kincaid is a skillful woman who manages to express her thoughts in quite a masculine, patriarchal manner, showing a beautiful ability to take on any role she wants to accomplish.
Besides certain positive sides of the story, the negativity is abundant, especially if to look from a more feministic perspective. The tone and diction of the message is that one of an order. There is no choice left for a girl but a clear instruction to follow: cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil (Kincaid) no one requests from a young lady how she prefers those fritters to be served or whether she has sugar at home, for example. Moreover, the message the author delivers sounds offensive. It decreases the self-value of a spoken-for woman as well as directly insults her with vulgar language: on Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming (Kincaid). We clearly may observe that the future of a girl is predestined in the eyes of the people who are around her. Either territorially or culturally, the life of a young girl seems to have a predicted one-way end - an easy-minded woman. No explanation is offered on how such an opinion is formed or whether the girl has committed anything that may condemn her to be treated this low, however, the label is so firm and confident that there would not be even uttered a single word of rejection.
Sometimes, it turns out that the targeted audience of the author is not a single girl, but the whole weaker sex of a given society. The rules are strict, but they can be referred to as logical due to a certain sense they carry in themselves for a large part of deeply-religious, highly traditional and patriarchal ethnic groups who have never before known a different state of things. The story clearly shows that the environment does not belong to wealthy people who often may have a broader world-view and be more open-minded than the less fortunate poor citizens, drowning in their daily worries where to get a slice of bread and decent garment: ...this is how you sweep a whole house; this is how you sweep a yard... (Kincaid).
The overall tone of the text can be justified as it offers sound rules for the majority of traditional, patriarchal families, however, the insulting labels thrown upon the girl put a shade of distrust onto the good nature of a message, which seems to educate young ladies. The author leaves the reader with guessing whether the girls past is that filled up with negative events or the author is merely biased about women in general or about women who belong to a particular ethnic group, country or community. The last statement sounds hopeful Jamaica Kincaid reproaches the girl if her predictions about the young ladys future are going to become reality by saying you mean to say that after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won't let near the bread? (Kincaid). Bread is considered to be the sacred food for the majority of communities as it is fully enough to save them from hunger and the process of growing and gathering corn for its production is the main occupation for a good number of the less materially fortunate nations. Bread stays at the head of each familys well-being, thus, to touch bread is compared to having access to sanctity which is open only to those with high moral.
If the reader can omit the offensive presumptions about the future of the girl, the story appears to support the great values: Family respect of a parent: this is how you iron your father's khaki shirt so that it doesn't have a crease (Kincaid); Cleanliness of body and mind: be sure to wash every day, even if it is with your own spit (Kincaid). Despite harsh representation and choice of words, the story is not deprived of most beautiful feeling love: Feeling which builds bridges between people and gives a meaning to their existence. The phrase this is how to love a man, and if this doesn't work there are other ways, and if they don't work don't feel too bad about giving up. Kiacaid shows that love is powerful and abundant one failure should not mean the end of this warm feeling in ones heart.
Jamaica Kincaid tackles the problems of the contemporary society. She openly justifies abortion by saying this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child (Kincaid). On the other hand, the lack of contraception, knowledge and caution in the poorly-developed communities is better figured-out this way than by nourishment of hungry little criminals or suffering of the ill. Aggression seems to be a significant part of the story: The author teaches women how to behave in the presence of men who bully women and how to do the same to them, which one more time greatly undermines the equality of males and females.
Good manners shall be the most important part of the story. How to become a lady can be a good title to Girl. All the orders mainly put limitations and determine what is allowed to do in that community and what shall be better avoided. Directions on how to cook, sew, wash, talk, eat, serve would be quite logical and acceptable by a lot of women who do not suffer from a discrimination syndrome if presented in a different manner. However, the author chooses not to be delicate with tender feelings of the girl and sets the conditions harshly as they are, as if trying to prepare the young lady for the misfortunes and hardships which life will offer her.
Girl is not to be read by feminists, by sensitive women with a great sense of understanding that their roles are not only those of a mother, daughter and a servant to their family, but also of a successful businesswoman who may choose a different path in life. Moreover, the text will do good to those men who think women are lower than they are, because excessive absurdity of directions is felt clearly from the first line. Through harsh words, the story teaches people how not to talk and what not to do in order to avoid superiority and not to humiliate people. Many women may find themselves in the same environments after reading Girl which may give them some understanding of the scrutiny they are in and a few ways out of it. Jamaica Kincaids depiction seems to be outrageous at the first sight but quite reasonable after a careful analysis.