At the Bottom of the River

Colonialism, Discourse, and (Re)Writing the Self in Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” College

Jamaica Kincaid has portrayed troubled mother-daughter relationships extensively throughout her work, but her 1978 story “Girl," from her first short story collection At the Bottom of the River, remains her most succinct depiction of this theme. Her fraught relationship with her own mother, Annie Richardson, undoubtedly fueled Kincaid’s preoccupation with mothers, daughters, and their often contentious bonds. In an interview with The New York Times, Kincaid admits of her mother, “[T]he way I became a writer was that my mother wrote my life for me and told it to me. I can't help but think that it made me interested in the idea of myself as an object” (qtd. in Kenney 6). Thus, the mother figure in “Girl” is likely a fictionalized portrayal of Kincaid’s own mother. Like most of Kincaid’s work, “Girl” addresses the acculturating influence of mothers on their daughters. In that sense, “Girl” seems a story of disempowerment. However, if one assumes the narrator of the story represents Kincaid’s mother, the subversive nature of “Girl” becomes apparent. Kincaid emancipates herself from the tyranny of the mother by co-opting her voice and diverting it from its original purpose. What is initially intended as a tool of acculturation and...

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