Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t” and Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl”

For each story, please address one or more of the following questions in your response.  Remember to keep these brief–about a paragraph or so in length.

1) What’s the emotion most at play in Dybek’s story?  How does he achieve that effect?  (Hint: take a look at the very beginning and the very end of the story.)

2) Take a look at the long paragraph that begins on the bottom of page 182 and continues about halfway down page 183.  How does the style of this paragraph (language, rhythm, punctuation) relate to its subject matter?  What’s the effect on you as a reader?

3) “Girl” is a dialogue between two characters.  Who are they, and where is the evidence in the story to back up your claim?

4) Why do you think Kincaid chose the structure she did?

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16 responses to “Stuart Dybek’s “We Didn’t” and Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl”

  1. 1) Dybek’s characters wears their emotions on their sleeves. The characters have a genuine love for life. One way we express love for each other is to have sex. In the first two and a half pages, the author is very descriptive about sex. Page 181: “At the dead end of our lovers’ land- a side street of abandoned factories- where I perfected the pinch that springs open a bra; behind the lilac bushes in Marquette Park, where you first touched me through my jeans and your nipples.” Both characters, especially the girl, don’t take love for granted. The story also makes reference to a naked pregnant woman, who drowned in the ocean, numerous times. The girl feels bad that she could not do anything to help her.
    The guy is also infatuated with love and sex, yet they never actually do it. He only fantasizes about it. On the first page, the story starts off with: “We didn’t do it in the light, darkness, etc.”

    2) The author relates love making to the love scene in “From Here To Eternity” with Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster. I have also noticed that the author did not insert many periods into the long paragraph. Instead, he incoporated a lot of commas. The many commas and the run on sentences is suppose to represent a certain level of love making excitment. Readers take a quick breath whenever periods arise. Without the periods, I felt excited and out of breath by the end of the paragraph. Sex is suppose to be an exciting time, and the author captured that beautifully with his insertion of commas and lack of periods.

    3) The dialogue is between a mother and a young girl. The mother is reminding the girl to act like a mature lady and not a slut. The word “slut” comes up several times in the story: “On Sundays, try to walk like a lady and not like the slut you are so bent on becoming.” I know it’s a mother figure instead of a father figure because of the nature of the dialogue. On page 20, the mother tells the girl how to love a man. A father, unless he is gay, will not tell his daughter the right or wrong way to love a man.

    4) The structure of the story is very interesting and unique. “Girl” is about a mom trying to convince a young girl to grow up and make wise decisions. Kincaid endlessly list tasks that a girl needs to accomplish in order to be a woman. You have to accomplish the small tasks before you accomplish the big ones. The tasks start out small and easy. On page 21, when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum on it. Eventually, the tasks becomes harder and harder to achieve. On page 320, the parent tells the girl how to bully a man and how a woman should bully a man. Bullying a man successfully is ten times harder than checking to see if there is gum on your blouse.

  2. 1. I feel that the emotion most played in Dybek’s story was one of emptiness. Dybek achieves that effect by having the main character go through the typical places where couples would make love, such as in the moonlight, the backseat of a car, etc. However, those places are where the main character wished he made love, but actually didn’t. Throughout the story the main character had a sense of yearning that he was never able to achieve with his current relationship. This eventually led to the breakup at the end of the story.

    2. The style of writing in this specific paragraph to me is somewhat humorous. It can be seen that the main character is trying to be a smooth and macho type of guy, but is not especially when he gets sand on the condom. The beginning of the paragraph seemed like it was intimate, but later on Dybek reveals the uneasiness of the situation, which later led to the police cars rolling up to the scene.

    3. In my opinion, the dialogue in “Girl” is between a mother and a daughter. My reasoning for this is that the mother teachers her daughter how to please a man and to not give up if she is bad at it. Also, the mother always seems to tell the daughter that she is going to end up a slut, and I find it hard for a father to say that (generally).

    4. I think Kincaid chose this unique structure to kind of hint the lifestyle of a girl. Females have this stereotypical standard that they must follow such as how to treat a cold or how to iron her father’s clothes. These household-like tasks reveal the life of a girl, and the author chooses to reveal that in a very straightforward manner.

  3. 1) I think there are two emotions that are most in play in “We Didn’t.” These are lust and longing. There is a repetitive theme through out the whole story: we didn’t; the author continually refers to where “we” didn’t have sex.

    2) I think this paragraph with its strange punctuation is to excite the reader. Personally, it didn’t really have any effect on me.

    3)The dialog is between a mother and a daughter. The daughter practically never speaks throughout the story and the mother is basically teaching her how to be a proper woman and thrive in her society. Although the things this mother tell her daughter aren’t the normal things mothers tell their daughters, it is still quiet obvious that the person giving the advice is the girls mother; the mother is the “teacher” of valuesto the daughters in many societies and fathers teach the sons.

    4) the story didn’t really have a plot and to me it almost seems more like a “handbook on how to be woman” than dialog between a mother and daughter. I think Kincaid was trying to achieve this effect by making the story in such a monotone … at least that’s how i feel. I read right through the story, really fast, like i was reading instructions.

    Also, because of the way the story was structured (long sentences, etc), the story conveyed a message of obedience and i felt that if i was the daughter, I would be taking notes while my mother was telling me all of this to make sure i dont “end up like a slut.”

  4. 1. The narrator’s emotion is one of regret. He starts and ends the story recapping what he didn’t do. He regrets having missed the opportunity to have sex with Gin. More than regret, he sounds like he’s whining or pitying himself because he didn’t get to have sex and, more importantly, lose his virginity. By mentioning all the things he didn’t do, the narrator is really telling us about all the things he wished he’d done.

    2. In this paragraph there are a few run-on sentences that mimic the feverish and overwhelming mood of the scene between Gin and narrator on the beach. As a reader you don’t really have a chance to pause; you feel rushed and eager to finish reading. Dybeck wants us to feel the hurriedness that that narrator feels and to bring us to the climax (haha) or turning point, which explains the “didn’t” part in the beginning and end of the story.

    3. The dialogue in Girl is between a girl and her mom. Even though it’s not told directly to us we are aware that the mother is giving her daughter advice when we read things like, “this is how to sew on a button” and “this is how you iron your father’s khaki shirt…” The bits of “advice” she gives—some so specific that they’re funny—are things that only a mother would think to impart to her daughter. We get a sense of nagging throughout the dialogue, especially when the mother reiterates that her daughter is “bent on becoming a slut.”

    4. I like the structure Kincaid chose because it makes me imagine a picky, overbearing mother nagging her daughter and telling her what to do, while her daughter can barely get a word in edgewise. The pace and punctuation overwhelm me as a reader and I can imagine only imagine that the girl feels burdened down by all of this motherly advice.

  5. Ryan MacGillivray

    1.The emotions in this story are that of regret and shame. I think the narrator feels a lot of regret for never having sex with his girlfriend and also embarrassment for not going all the way.
    2.This paragraph is what made the story, it sucked me into it I found myself eager to get to the end to see what happens. The way it is written makes the reader anticipate and get excited; I think the writer did a great job accomplishing that.
    3.The dialogue between the characters in this story is between a mother and daughter. This is not clearly stated in the story but if you pay close attention it becomes obvious this is a mother telling her daughter how to behave like a lady and the things that she needs to know in order to be a respectable woman. The nagging tone of the person speaking is one that only a parent can have when speaking to their children.
    4.This structure reminded me of the story we read last week “orientation”. I think for this story it is effective in showing the long list of things that a girl is expected to know and practice, what she should wear, how to talk to people etc. I think she wanted to highlight all the many things that are expected of women.

    • Thanks, Ryan. I’m glad you enjoyed the paragraph–I think it’s really well done, too. I agree that there’s a lot of regret and shame in Dybek’s story–but I wonder if the root of those feelings are the lack of “doing it” with the girlfriend, or if it’s something else.

  6. Dybek- I agree with Amina about the themes of lust and longing and I agree with Julia about the feeling of regret. The two elements of emotion that I feel are present are frustration and disappointment. Frustration in the sense of sexual in that the narrator never got to lose his virginity to Gin. Also frustration in the dialogue between the two characters in their arguments, or verbal confrontations. Disappointment in the missed opportunities lost of the times when sex could have taken place. The narrator makes this clear in his constant explanation of all the places and times when it could have happened but it did not. The floater or dead body discovery of the pregnant woman as an explanation for Gin’s reluctance was a nice unexpected twist. The last sentence I believe sums up the story “we didn’t, we didn’t, we never did.”
    Kincaid- This reads like a dialogue between a mother and a duaghter. It implies this relationship when the narrator says, “this is how to iron your father’s khaki’s. “It could be the dialogue between the nanny or housekeeper and the daughter of the house, because most of the things she is teaching her involve house chores or duties. It reads like a third world country setting because it reads this is how you make medicine. In most civilized developed nations people tend not to make their own medicine, rather purchase it from a store, or through a doctor. Also washing in your own spit is an example of extreme poverty, implying that the existense of running water may not be readily available to these people.

  7. 1. The emotion most at play in Dybeks story is a little hard to put my finger on, at first It seems like regret, by his repeating of the phrase “we didn’t” but It isnt written in a regretfull tone. The whole thing reads out rather matter of fact. He doesn’t bemoan the fact that they never did, he just sort of states it.

    2. It is written out to the same rhythmic pentameter as the actions being undertaken by the characters, the sentence structures and punctuation mirror the awkward fumbling attempt of the lovers on their first time.

    3. I would imagine they are a mother daughter, seeing as how its advice for a young girl from an older wiser woman.

    4.Its mostly a back and forth, and it is more interesting reading it this way than if she broke every sentance with a she said, she replied, type structure.

  8. 1)The emotion most displayed is frustration. The entire story is dotted with “didn’ts” and harps on the moment when the two lovers almost finally did it, but were cut off by a traumatic experience that followed them for the rest of the story. It also relies heavily on images of things the two, or at least the man, wish they did; things the man obviously thinks of often, and he even named the train home from her house the “Blue Ball Express.”

    2) The style of the paragraph is very energetic and conveys ecstasy very well. The effect it has on me as a reader is to whip me up into the excitement of the paragraph and the action, and then suddenly grind to an abrupt halt which sort of projects the frustration depicted in the story as a whole right onto me.

    3) This story is obviously between a mother and daughter. The nagging tone of the whole story, plus the mentioning of ironing the father’s clothes makes it clear that it is a mother and daughter, as no combination of family members of friends I can possibly think of would speak to each other in this tone.

    4) I think the author chose to write the story this way to sort of overload the reader with content and advice. Perhaps to give a clearer look at the type and amount of things mother teach their daughters? It also sort of makes the ending funnier than it might be in a normal story. The fact that the daughter chooses to question that advice out of all the others alone makes it kind of humorous, but the way the mother manages to bring such an innocuous question back to her worry about her daughter becoming a slut makes it gold.

  9. Thanks, Andrew. Interesting that the story ends on the “slut” question. I’m not sure I saw humor there, but I’ll look forward to discussing that in class tomorrow.

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