I just finished reading Jamaica Kincaid’s short-short story, “Girl.” I had one of those moments. You know what I mean. A left-feeling-just-a-tiny-bit-breathless moment, a sort of distant relative to the well-placed sucker-punch that Wharton’s “Roman Fever” delivers, but powerful nonetheless. Critics might suggest that Kincaid’s piece isn’t a ‘story,’ for it has no plot. Fair enough. No exposition or rising action. No real climactic high point that I could discern, and no resolution either. Character development is merely alluded to. Conflict, on the other hand? “Girl” delivers plenty of that. Perhaps it’s just the tension the reader cannot help but feel as the narrator delivers her laundry list of what to, and what-not-to-do to her daughter, if said daughter is to successfully navigate the grown-up world, and land a role as a domestic and/or a wife. Gender and racial stereotypes reliably make us squirm in our easy chairs, straighten up a bit on our thrones of superiority, or leap to our feet in righteous indignation, vowing to invite everyone to a seat at the table. Kincaid’s images and narrative style demand a reader’s response, unless, of course, said reader has no pulse, in which case, a far more pressing concern begs for attention.
Here is a thing I love, and a thing always true: Great (and even good) literature opens our eyes that we might see. It brings the vast world into the palms of our hands so that we might turn it upside down, sideways and rightside up again as we try to figure it out. Literature gives us something, other than our own weary selves, to talk about, to ponder, to understand. When a mother tells her daughter, “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;” a life lesson of astonishing proportion has made its entrance.
Literature, doing its office. Don’t miss out. Go. READ.