Performance and the Gendered Body in Jamaica Kincaid's 'Girl' and Oonya Kempadoo's Buxton Spice
Jamaica Kincaid's compact and succinct story 'Girl,' the lead story in the collection At the Bottom of the River (1983), has been lauded as one of the premier works in Kincaid's corpus, particularly her discourse on the making of 'woman' in postcolonial Caribbean contexts. The text is essentially a set of instructions offered by an adult (assumed to be a mother), laying out the script for the performance of womanhood in the fictional society in which the female child is expected to live and perform her gender. 'Girl''s emphasis on performative acts reiterates the inextricable link between gender and performance. Undoubtedly, this landmark Kincaid story is in dialogue with Butler's theorization of the centrality of stylized acts in the creating and crafting of gendered selves. Less well known is Oonya Kempadoo's debut novel Buxton Spice (1999). Buxton Spice chronicles the experiences of four pubescent girls in 1970s Guyana as they learn about, participate in, and challenge some gender expectations of their immediate and wider communities. The story is told from the point of view of Lula, who keenly observes the ways in which gender roles are enacted and how these roles may be re-enacted. Her observations alert the reader to the novel's preoccupation with uncovering, or perhaps reconfiguring, how gender roles might be at once imagined and played out in contemporary Caribbean societies. Both texts illustrate how the tensions and contradictions surrounding the constructions of womanhood, and in Buxton Spice, manhood, are engaged through performative acts, some of which ostensibly conform to prescribed gender roles but that actually undermine them.