I was a student myself, unmarried, without children, and I laughed and disparaged the speaker — the mother. What a bossy know-it-all , my students say, just as I said when I first read it. My students snicker at the mother and her old-fashioned values, telling her daughter what to do, not allowing her to make up her own mind. Some of them nod knowingly. They recognize the cadence and the chiding, mother fully expecting her daughter to screw up and already disappointed, unhappy in advance.
The girl represents Kincaid in her youth. The story shows that, in this relationship, the mother tries to prescribe the behaviors that she deems appropriate for females. She expects and imposes these behaviors on the girl Kincaid. In addition, it is apparent that the girl is constrained within these prescribed behaviors. In this regard, the story focuses on the significance of familial relationships in shaping individual behavior.
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It appeared in the June 26, issue of The New Yorker. The story is a to-do list and a how-to-do list containing one sentence of a word dialogue. It features what the girl hears from her mother. The story is mostly told in the second person.