In Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl", there's this line towards the end, about "how to love a man":

this is how to love a man, and if this doesn’t work there are other ways, and if they don’t work don’t feel too bad about giving up;

The sections of this line are separated by commas rather than semicolons, implying that they're part of the same piece of advice. Previously, related pieces of advice were separated by semicolons, such as immediately before:

this is how to catch a fish; this is how to throw back a fish you don’t like, and that way something bad won’t fall on you; this is how to bully a man; this is how a man bullies you;

Both of the lines about fish (how to catch one, and how to throw one back) and both of the lines about bullying (this is how you bully a man and how a man bullies you) are related, but are separated by semicolons, resulting in two sections about fish and two sections about bullying. The line about loving a man breaks that pattern, and includes several pieces of advice in the same section.

Why does the line about "how to love a man" include all of this within one section instead of splitting it up? What's different here?

  • I don't know the book, but I suspect the answer might simply be that "how to love a man" is a continuation of a single piece of advice (i,.e if this doesn't work, try that), whereas your fish example is, in fact, separate pieces of advice. (i.e. how to catch a fish isn't the same as how to bully someone).
    – Matt Thrower
    Aug 25 at 7:37
  • @MattThrower - Let me clarify - there are two separate statements about fish, and there are two seperate statements about bullying, for a total of four separate statements. The statements about fish are not combined into one, and the statements about bullying are not combined into one. The "how to love a man" is combined into one.
    – Mithical
    Aug 25 at 7:46
  • But look at the structure of the two statements. The first is [advice], AND [supplemental advice]. The second is [advice]; [advice], AND [supplemental advice]; [advice]. I really don't think they're so different. The comma is used where the second item is a direct continuation of the first via an "and".
    – Matt Thrower
    Aug 25 at 8:24
  • 2
    I think the commas just indicate parenthetic asides on the piece of advice, i.e. "this is how to love a man (and if this doesn't work there are other way (and if they don't work don't feel too bad about giving up)), rather than being advice in their own right. The same holds true for the fish advice. Aug 25 at 8:27


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