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How does Jamaica Kincaid’s use of language in “Girl” affect the story’s meaning?

by | Jan 5, 2022 | Uncategorized

 

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Assignment Length
500-750 words (organized into 2-3 paragraphs)
Format
MLA Style: 12-point font, double spaced, include a heading (with your first and last name, the course title, and date) and an original title (not just ‘close reading write up’). Be sure to write in complete, error-free sentences and use paragraphs.
Prompt
How does Jamaica Kincaid’s use of language in “Girl” affect the story’s meaning? In order to answer this question, you should identify 3 interesting rhetorical devices that Kincaid uses in the story. Describe these devices in detail (you may quote the text to provide specific examples of the devices you chose to analyze, but you still need to describe how the language is functioning in the quotes. Don’t assume that the quotes speak for themselves. It’s up to you to explain the devices that you see operating in the quotes.) After you describe each device or interesting linguistic detail, then you should interpret how the device or detail contributes to the meaning of the story.
Here is an example. Please don’t copy this example in your write up:

Typically, authors punctuate sentences with periods, each period indicating a complete stop or resting point. However, in the short story, “Girl,” Jamaica Kincaid eschews the restful stopping point provided by the period, and, instead, connects the majority of the story’s sentences using semi-colons. By doing so, Kincaid creates a different kind of rhythmic organization. Since semi-colons indicate that sentences are conceptually linked, the repeated use of semi-colons makes the reader experience the sentences—each an instruction for how a “proper” girl ought to behave—as a never-ending laundry list of demands. Without the finality of a period, the reader cannot rest or pause, and the story’s rhythm becomes hectic.* Kincaid opted for this hectic pacing because it is the best way of demonstrating how much pressure the “girl” (referred to by the title) experiences in her day-to-day life. The girl appears unable to rest or reflect, even briefly, due to the cultural and societal expectations constantly placed upon her. The rhythm created by the semi-colons mirrors the constant, unrelenting pressure that the character feels. In this way, Kincaid vividly re-creates the stressful sensations that a person experiences as they are molded into a socially-accepted gender role.
*In the bolded sentences, I am giving a detailed descriiption of the rhetorical device (Kincaid’s use of semi-colons).
**In the underlined sentences, I am offering an interpretation of how the device contributes to the meaning of the story.
This sample paragraph is 196 words. You can see how if I wrote at this level of detail for 2 more devices (remember

the prompt asks you to address 3 devices), then I would have a total of about 588 words, which would hit the target 500-750 words count for the assignment.
Please note: You do not need to write a formal introduction or conclusion, and you do not need to have a thesis statement. This is not a traditional essay but rather an exercise in how to “close read.”
Partial List of Formal/Rhetorical Features
(The features or devices that you discuss in your “close reading” do not have to be on this list. This is just a partial list to help you out if you’re not sure where to start. Please do not feel limited by this list. If you observe something interesting about how words are working, trust your instinct. What you’re observing IS a formal feature! There doesn’t need to be an official “term” for it.)
Narrative point of view/perspective (as established through pronouns and verb tenses)
Syntax (the organization of sentences–long, short, parallel, their flow, whether they’re easy or difficult to enunciate, etc.)
Metaphor
Imagery
Rhyme (including off rhyme and moments in which the author breaks from the expectations set up by the rhyme scheme)
Apostrophe (an address to someone/something)
Juxtaposition (be ready to explain the significance of the contrast)
Irony (in a different way from juxtaposition, irony can also generate a contrast… juxtaposition generates a contrast between items in space; irony generates a contrast between mental or situational expectation and reality)
Structure (the interplay of beginning, middle, and end; where things are located)
Pacing, temporality, sense of time created by language
Emotional connotation of specific words
Different registers of language, or what we might call language’s sociopolitical contexts: formal word choice (academic/elevated/authoritative/official) versus colloquial language (slang/everyday/intimate)
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1978/06/26/girl

 

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