Jamaica Kincaid’s short, short story “Girl,” in which a mother writes to her daughter, who is going out into the world, a list of rules that she wants her to live by, offers an ideal opportunity for students to consider the kind of advice their mothers or elder women, or fathers for that matter, who have raised them would give to them as they prepare to go out into the world. This activity can be further developed by asking students to imagine themselves as the mothers, fathers, or caregivers who are writing the letter to their own imaginary children.
Ideally, literature turns us upon ourselves and invites us to reflect upon our own humanity, growth, struggles, pain, choices, etc. “Girl” is such a story, inviting students to:
examine the rules by which the young woman is asked, by her mother, to live,
become aware of the rules by which they themselves are asked to live and perhaps discuss whether they are reasonable, and
role play that they are mothers or fathers, writing an imaginary letter of rules to their own children who are about to go out into the world.
Introduce the story “Girl” by asking students how many of them have been told by a parent or an elder, “Now that you are man, or now that you are a woman, you must behave as an adult, and there are responsibilities that come with being grown?” Ask what some of the rules or expectations are that parents or elders or teachers, for that matter, have articulated to the students. Write some of these rules and expectations on the board to raise consciousness and to spark interest.
Then explain that parents all over the world seem to follow this general tradition. Explain that the letter they are about to read was written by a mother in the West Indies to her daughter who is about to leave home. Read aloud the letter that comprises “Girl,” and then ask students in small groups to come up with a list of rules from the letter and to try to put them into categories such as: rules regarding daily cleanliness, rules regarding social behavior, rules regarding matters of the heart, etc.
Once groups have had time to come up with a list and categories, ask each group to share the categories. Write these on the board. Then ask each group, to report what from their lists they would put in each category. This should generate a discussion as to which rules fit into which categories and may necessitate adding categories. It will also generate a discussion regarding what the rules are and to what extent they are specific or non-specific to the West Indies culture.
Next, using these categories, ask each student to brainstorm the rules and expectations by which he or she is asked to live, now that he or she is growing up. A Graphic Organizer can be used for this prewriting activity. Completing the Graphic Organizer can lead to the students writing a letter they might expect to receive from their parent or the elder who has raised them. They can use “Girl” as their model; however, their letters may vary from the model.
Finally, students will consider the rules and expectations they would put in a letter to a young adult if they themselves were parents. This could be done as a group brainstorm or individual activity. Some students may have young children of their own. They could pretend that these young children are young adults and write their letter to them.