Literature Annotations

Bambara, Toni Cade
A Girl's Story

Genre Short Story
KeywordsAbortion, Adolescence, Empathy, Human Worth, Love, Menstruation, Poverty, Sexuality, Women's Health

What occurs when a young woman begins to menstruate and has had no preparation for it by her mother or anyone else? Toni Cade Bambara's fictive account illustrates how a normal event in the female life cycle is transformed by an uninformed child into a terrifying event. Rae Ann, whose mother died years ago, has been raised by her strict grandmother, a woman not inclined to talk about matters relating to sex.

While such ignorance seems unlikely in today's television society, the poignant and compelling story provides a useful introduction to discussion about crucial questions associated with growth and development and family behavior. Especially strong is Bambara's graphic portrayal of the physicality of menstruation and how an unprepared adolescent might respond; every female reader winces with understanding for behavior that is both humorous and full of pathos.

CommentaryThis story is superb for classes focusing on beginning-of-life issues because it demonstrates how conventional assumptions can be frustrated. The grandmother's reluctance to discuss sex is related to her own daughter's (Rae Ann's mother) death following a botched abortion. Instead of celebrating the arrival of womanhood with her uninformed, frightened, and confused grandchild, she is at first accusatory, able to recall only the bloody "sin" of her daughter and the death that followed. The story is strong, complex, and difficult to forget.
SourceThe Sea Birds Are Still Alive
PublisherRandom House
Place PublishedNew York
Alternate SourceTrials, Tribulations, and Celebrations
Alternate PublisherIntercultural
Alternate Edition1992
Alternate EditorsMarian Gray Secundy, with Lois LaCivita Nixon
Place PublishedYarmouth, Maine
Annotated by Nixon, Lois LaCivita
Date of Entry 04/29/94
Last Revised 10/25/96