28 August 2017

Creating Lively Characters

The two main characters, the mother and the daughter, in the prose poem Girl by Jamaica Kincaid come alive and believable for me. Both of them have preferences, wants, conflicts, histories, flaws, and surprises. The mother wants her coming-of-age daughter to grow up as a proper and respectable woman based on her own life experiences and wisdom. From her long lists of advice and folk knowledge – how to make abortion-inducing medicine, how to deal with men and relationships, and how to fit into the community, I can sense a complicated life she has lived. Stemming from a deep love and natural motherly protection for her daughter, her advice nonetheless sounds smothering and oppressive, like many mothers do. Her worry and frustration about her daughter becoming a “slut” create conflicts within herself and with her rebellious daughter. The mother surprises me though as not just a typical caring, practical and suffocating mother when she tells her daughter: “this is how to spit up in the air if you feel like it, and this is how to move quick so that it doesn’t fall on you.” This suggests that the mother was once a spirited and rebellious young girl herself.

The daughter in the story defies her mother by interjecting objections to her non-stop worrying and scolding. The daughter’s raised voices, only twice and in italics in the text, catch me off-guard and let me see her nature of rebellion. I can imagine and see her life as living with such an over-bearing mother. She does not go to the church, and she wants to live on her own terms. I do not see the daughter’s flaws unless I count teenage angst and rebellion as such, which I do not as they are part of a growing up experience for most of us.

The story has a unique structure with no conventional beginning, middle and end, and this leads to no character change for both protagonists. After reading it, I wonder how the conflict between the mother and the daughter has evolved, and if either of them undergoes any transformation. I think there are opportunities for the lists to go on more to indicate such changes and to make the story to have a even more satisfying closure for readers.

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Posted August 28, 2017 by Laura Zhang in category "Personal Commentary

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