Feminist Perspective

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Composition II/Literature

Week 2: The Feminist Perspective
This presentation will introduce you to the feminist critical perspective through a close examination of the short story “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid.

The Feminist Critical Perspective
“Feminist criticism questions the ways in which women have been defined through a literary tradition dominated by male authors and critics…many feminists argue that the forms and conventions of traditional literature allow only a certain type of female character to be portrayed, and that women as well as men are conditioned to respond in certain ways to those characters” (Pike & Acosta, 2010, A-7). Basically, readers who use the feminist critical perspective look at the ways women and men are portrayed in literature, the roles they play, as well as the gender of the author and how that might influence the portrayal of gender in the work. Feminists are seeking equality for people of all genders, sexes, sexual orientations, etc., so they tend to analyze from the feminist critical perspective with ideas of equality in mind. Most importantly, readers who use the feminist critical perspective question what the work of literature says about the role, position, and influence of women (DiYanni, 2007, p. 2174).

Questions to ask when reading:
• What roles are women playing? With what consequences? • Who has the power? • How does the representation of women (and men) reflect the place and time in which the work was written? • What gender perspective does the author write from, and how does his or her background influence the portrayal of gender in the work?

“Born in Saint John’s on the island of Antigua, Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson came to New York City to work as an au pair. She studied at the New School and at Franconia College, changing her name to Jamaica Kincaid at the request of her parents when she began writing. Often autobiographical, Kincaid’s novels explore her relationship with her mother, the colonial experience of Antigua, and the immigrant experience in the United States. “Girl” was first published in the New Yorker and was later reprinted in her collection At the Bottom of the River (1983)” (Pike & Acosta, 2011, p. 351).

“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
Please read the poem “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid in your textbook Literature: A World of Writing Stories, Poems, Plays, and Essays, then continue below. Wait a minute, that was a story?
Stories come in all shapes and sizes, like people. It’s important to ask yourself questions while reading all works of literature, whether they are in a familiar form or not. To start, why did Kincaid write this story, and why did she write it as a series of commands? To answer the big “why” questions, let’s examine the story closely. Start with our list of questions: What roles are women playing? With what consequences? Heterosexual: “this is how to love a man” Daughter: “this is how you iron your father’s khaki pants so that they don’t have a crease” Food provider: “this is how you grow okra—far from the house, because okra tree harbors red ants;” “this is how to catch a fish” “Lady”: “don’t squat down to play marbles—you are not a boy, you know” Entertainer: “this is how you smile to someone you don’t like too much;” “this is how you set a table for dinner with an important guest” Laundress: “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap” Cook: “cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil” Seamstress: “this is how to make a button-hole for the button you have just sewed on” Caretaker: “this is how to make ends meet” Housekeeper: “this is how you sweep a corner” Teacher: (the narrator) outlines the roles for the young girl And the consequences for not adhering to these outlined roles? “looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming” “after all you are really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread?”

“Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid
…the big “why” questions:...
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