Parents play a crucial role in the development of children, varying from culture to culture. Although imperative, the mother and daughter relationship can be trivial. Many women writers have exercised their knowledge and shared their feelings in their works to depict the importance and influence of mothers upon daughters. Jamaica Kincaid, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Kiana Davenport are only three of the many women writers who have included mother and daughter themes in their texts. These writers explore the journeys of women in search of spiritual, mental and individual knowledge. As explained by these authors, their mothers’ words and actions often influence women both negatively and positively. These writers also show the effects of a mother’s lesson on a daughter, while following women’s paths to discovery of their own voice or identity. In Kincaid’s poem, Girl; Hong Kingston’s novel, Woman Warrior; and Davenport’s short story, The Lipstick Tree, various themes are presented in contrasting views and contexts, including the influence of mothers upon daughters.
It is said that a girl can often develop some of her mother’s characteristics. Although, in their works, Kincaid, Hong Kingston and Davenport depict their protagonists searching for their own identities, yet being influenced in different ways by their mothers. Jamaica Kincaid’s poem Girl, is about a young woman coming-of-age receiving helpful advice from her mother. In this poem, Kincaid addresses several issues where a mother’s influence is beneficial to a young woman’s character. The mother, or speaker, in Girl, offers advice to her daughter- advice that she otherwise would not learn without being told or shown. The mother advises the daughter about everyday tasks, and how to go about them properly (in her opinion). “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 day; don’t walk bare-head in the hot sun;…this is how to sew on a button; this is how to make a buttonhole for the button you have just sewed on; … this is how you sweep a corner; this is how you sweep the whole house…” Most importantly, the mother offers advice that only a mother should. Although she is being informative and authoritative, the mother’s tone is often condescending. In particular, she repeatedly utters the same phrase to warn her daughter of becoming a slut. “…On Sundays try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming;…this is how to hem a dress when you see the hem coming down and so to prevent yourself from looking like the slut I know you are so bent on becoming;… 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…” Above all, the mother in Girl wants her daughter to strive for what is correct according to her opinion and what society suggests is proper. As with any mother, the daughter is often a reflection of her own character. Judging from the length of the flow of the poem and continuity, except for occasional semi-colons, the mother is adamant about her daughter’s positive development into a woman. She presents herself as domineering and venerable. And so, when the daughter interjects with two statements, the mother overrides her, especially at the end of the poem. “…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?” Although it is not defined whether or not the daughter follows her mother’s advice, it is obvious that the mother wants her daughter to mold her character into what she sees as proper. In order to find her own...
Cited: Davenport, Kiana. The Lipstick Tree. Women Writers coursepack. Fall 1999.
Kincaid, Jamica. Girl. Women Writers coursepack. Fall 1999
Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. Random House: NY, April 1976.
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