Essay: Is There Any Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Mothers and daughters are not always best friends. They can have difficulties in understanding each other, but the only thing that is important is their warm feelings to each other, even deeply hidden.
“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid presented us a dialogue between the mother and the daughter, which causes readers think about their backgrounds, their development and their future. I am sure that after reading this long sentence each has thought of something inmost from his own experience. We all were children, not each of one was a daughter, but we can compare and contrast the relationships of us and our parents, and remember values they were teaching us. It is difficult to compare the educational patterns of present day with those of the past, as it can appear that what we consider abnormal was just the common practice of previous generations.
Kincaid had presented not just the story to think and analyze, but also an ideology of the historical period, place and class. Ideology for me means the collection of ideas. Count Antoine Destutt de Tracy in the 18th century defined it as the “science of ideas”. It implies philosophical ideas, as well as the common sense; it is a vision, a frame of reference through which people are percepting the environment. It is the way of looking at things. After reading biography of the author who was born in Antigua and tense relationships with her mother, the story seems to be biographical. We receive knowledge regarding Jamaica’s childhood and how her mother treated her. We can follow how women were portrayed in Antigua and what was expected among them. Such women attitudes were historically developed, as Antigua, being an island in the West Indies in the Caribbean region, was a colonial island for a long time. Slavery past never passes without a trace for the people. It leaves an expiable mark in the minds and hearts of the generations.
This story is a series of moral precepts delivered by the mother to her daughter. We used to hear similar lectures from our parents all the time, but in ideal case we are left an opportunity to think critically and to choose. The girl in the story has no choice. It seems that her mother has answers for all questions and prepared distinct instructions how to behave in situations her child may encounter. But all instructions revolve around labor and men, leaving an impression that she will never be able to find the door to exit this dark room. All of girl’s life is already written and the only thing she has been left to do- is to follow instructions- “cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off”. There is no possibility that she might decide to do anything beyond the abundant limits, social class she and her mother belong- -“this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a button-hole for the button you have just sewed on; this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut”. The mother and the daughter belonged to the working class. The only thing they were doing is working. The sense of life is “making ends meet” and there is no progress. Survival cannot be the only goal in person’s life, as death loses its sense. If we are on Earth just to keep ourselves alive, then if we didn’t exist, nothing would have changed?
The daughter has to perform particular social roles, and if she will not, she will be simply labelled a slut. On the mother’s side instructions serve as the mature defense from society and from public opinion, and from the side of her daughter- instructions deprive her capability to think critically. Critical thinking would awaken a sentient human being in the daughter and assist in understanding what she wants to do in life and to perform her unique predestinied role.
Parents and their children have a deep connection, which is not just limited to social responsibilities. The mother is anxious about her child; she wants her to be accepted by society. She shows her daughter her love and affection the way she can. Probably the mother was treated the same way by her mother. And still it is undeniable that she cares of her daughter, she wants her to be happy the way she understands this notion. But she creates just a copy of herself. The mother gave life to her one-of-a-kind child, and now she is creating a social clone of herself by dictating to her daughter how to lend her life. Mother foresees that her daughter will be working all her life and all her Mondays and Wednesdays will be just the same: “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…” But there is no answer for the question whether some day there will not be enough white clothes to wash on Monday, or if the girl decides to wash everything together on Saturday. There is no provision made for contingency on change and appears that the mother’s lessons are more important than life’s possibilities.
Thought the mother has no expectations of social growth for her daughter, she doesn’t teach her daughter to be proud of who she is, to love what she does, and to listen to her heart. The mother’s failure in this respect indicates her doubts regarding her own life. She doesn’t teach her religions or philosophical precepts. The mother doesn’t mention any education needed to her daughter, which could be the way out of the working class and the new fresh wave in her daughter’s life. Probably all these were unknown to mother as well, but as life goes by, it becomes apparent that life goes far beyond labor. People despite belonging to their particular classes and social circumstances, at critical moments of their lives start to think of who they are and what for they are on this Earth – meaning of their existence.
There is a vivid contradiction between moral values and social status. Mother doesn’t teach the girl that she should be honest with herself and behave morally, she merely teaches her how to save her face before society. The entire dialogue, the mother seems to be agitated that her daughter will not become a slut. It is natural mother’s desire, which includes personal feelings to her child, as becoming a slut may ruin the inner world of her daughter. But at the end, her mother teaches her how to make an abortion. It seems to be normal for both of them.”…this is how to make a good medicine for a cold; this is how to make a good medicine to throw away a child before it even becomes a child…” Medicines for cold and to throw away a child have nearly the same consequence and the same moral weight. And after saying that, her mother turns to fishing, placing it to the same row.
The mother doesn’t draw any distinction for the daughter between the symbolic meaning what is originally good or bad. The mother doesn’t have her opinion about being a slut, she teaches her daughter from the perspective of the public opinion- “if the society considers you a slut”. So, from one side mother gives instructions regarding moral standards of behavior- “this is how to behave in the presence of men who don’t know you very well, and this way they won’t recognize immediately the slut I have warned you against becoming…” and from the other she teaches her how to sleep with men and not get pregnant. But if the daughter get marries, this can be interpreted as the mother was telling her daughter how to dispose an unwanted child, in case her future family will not have enough money to feed another mouth. Abortions are dangerous for women’s health and life. By giving abortion advices, the mother supported the ideas of social status and not her daughter’s happiness. Even though the mother speaks a lot about the abortions, she doesn’t mention the case that her daughter some day will give birth to her own child. The mother says nothing about how to bring-up children and how to treat them properly; she doesn’t mention what to teach them. Is there no place in her daughter’s future life to nothing except labor and man?
The mother teaches her daughter how to take care their father’s clothes. This is the only place, where their father is mentioned: “this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt so that it doesn’t have a crease; this is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have a crease”. For me this few lines are pathetic, as it is one of the most essential things in each woman’s life- to take care of man, whom she loves. First, it can be her father, later –her husband. This kind of knowledge and education transferred by the mother to her daughter is very valuable. It doesn’t mean total obedience to man’s authority, but expression of feelings, as it is natural for women take care of men in the aspects they are not keen in. I agree with each single word the mother said about treating a man- “this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you; 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”. Such attitude to men is eternal and very important to daughters future life and happiness. As woman is happy when she loves and is loved, when she cares the man she loves and she doesn’t need any evidences from him.
The girl speaks just twice in the whole story- “don’t sing benna in Sunday school; you mustn’t speak to wharbfflies will follow you; but I don’t sing benna on Sundays at all and never in Sunday school; this is how to sew on a button…” and at the end “always squeeze bread to make sure it’s fresh; but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread?; 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?”. There is no dialogue in it. The girl feels that she will not be heard and therefore asks only two questions, one of which is left unanswered. Does that mean that girl is not curious? Or she feels that her mother will not be able to answer? Probably she does, but at the end her mother shows her that instructions are, ideally, meant for everything she may encounter in life, and it is very sad that the girl’s life story is one sentence long. Relationships between the mother and the daughter are probably one-sided, and their conversation was. The mother’s manner to speak is strict and demanding, she delivers her advices in the commanding tone, making her daughter a moral slave. They have mechanical relations, in which there is no place to warmth and kindness. The mother is hypnotizing her daughter with her speech even though some advices are unnecessary and silly- “don’t throw stones at blackbirds, because it might not be a blackbird at all”. Such relations may be the piece of history for the readers to understand how children were brought up in the middle of the 20th century – in the formal and strict way.
Even though I was rather critical of what the mother was dictating, I still try to stay away from strict judgments, as the time, the place, the class and other circumstances play not the least role in the formation of people’s ideology.