Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Alice Walker's "The Flowers" and Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl"

These two short stories shared one key thing: I thought I had them figured out, only to become more and more confused about them as I neared the end of each. The mood at the beginning of "The Flowers" was very lighthearted and care-free, very serene and happy. It took an abrupt turn when the girl found herself in an unfamiliar and gloomy cove. Then of course she came across the decaying body of a large man who had apparently been hung from a tree nearby. What I thought was weird was that she didn't seem to think it was that big of a deal to come across a dead body in the woods (she even began to pick a flower nearby after the discovery), until she saw the remains of the noose in the tree and around the body. The only reason I could think of to justify her sudden uneasiness was that she realized then that someone else must have hung the man. Perhaps in her happy-go-lucky world she lived in from the second paragraph onward, she couldn't imagine something like that happening and thought that the man must have died naturally or for his own reasons. Perhaps seeing the noose made her realize that he had died against his will and it had shattered her sense of reality and brought her spiraling back to earth. Which is why she then dropped her flowers and the summer as she knew it was over.

I also thought it was weird that the family allowed pigs to root on the banks of the spring where the family got their drinking water. I guess they probably wouldn't experience too much contamination, but the idea of it would still make me nervous.

Jamaica Kincaid's short story "Girl" was unlike anything I have ever read before. At first I assumed that each piece of information was advice given to her from her mother as she was being raised, and the phrases in italic were her occasional questions or interjections. Though as the story progressed I wasn't too sure. As the accusations of her desiring to become a slut became more and more common, I couldn't really imagine a mother telling these things to their own child, although I guess it is still possible. I began to think it might be a conversation going on inside her own head. Perhaps she was going over things she had learned growing up and her own conscience added in the "slut" references because she feels bad about the person she has become. After even more thought, I came to a different conclusion. The whole tone of the poem seems a little bitter, and even mocking. I finally came to the conclusion that she was the mother and everything that was being said was advice she was trying, or had already tried to pass on to her child. The constant "slut" references are things she is thinking, but probably not saying out loud, which would explain the bitter, mocking tone. And the italicized phrases are her child's interjections to the mother's teachings.

I tried to look up the meaning of a few words like okrbafar, "dasheen" and "doukona". Dasheen is a food, a tuber from China but I could not find the others. I guessed they were just other foods, okrbafar being something similar to okra and doukona being some type of dish, but I don't think they have much to do with interpreting the story, so I didn't delve too deep. I also looked for benna, which I took to be the name of a song after reading the story. All I could find was that Benna was the name of a recording artist, so I didn't think this had much to do with interpreting the story either.

At any rate, both of them presented sharp contrast from a normal story. In "The Flowers" the mood went from happy to gloomy to tense and uneasy within a few paragraphs, much faster than I am normally used to. In "Girl" the contrast was the difference in formatting and presentation of the story. Small, sharp sentences (mostly declarations) and the fact that there were no periods, which means no pauses anywhere. To me this gave the feeling that it was more a train of thought than an actual conversation, so I feel like she was recounting a conversation that had already happened within her head. This is much different from the dialogue that I am used to.

1 comment:

  1. Jamaica Kincaid (the author) married in 1979.
    "Girl" was written in 1978. That leads to the "Girl" story can't be the conversation between her daughter and her. It must be between her mother and her.