What I Have Been Doing Lately, Jamaica Kincaid


The short story "What I Have Been Doing Lately" was written by Jamaica Kincaid, a renowned writer born in Antigua in 1949. Originally published in 1981 in the Paris Review, it later appeared in Kincaid's debut book, "At the Bottom of the River," released in 1983. The narrative revolves around a young girl who recounts a series of dreamlike experiences, including leaving her house at night, embarking on a nocturnal walk, crossing a body of water, and encountering a peculiar woman who inquires about her recent activities.

Plot Summary

The story begins with the narrator describing what she has been doing lately. It all starts one night when she hears the doorbell ring while lying in bed. Hastily, she rushes downstairs to answer the door, only to find that no one is there. Undeterred, she decides to venture outside and proceeds to walk northward, barefoot, while observing her surroundings.

Eventually, she reaches a vast expanse of water that poses an obstacle since she lacks both a boat and the ability to swim. However, as time passes, she obtains a boat and successfully rows across the water. Upon reaching the other side, she disembarks and continues her journey along an unknown path, unaware of the duration of her walk.

At one point, when she glances back at the path she traversed, she notices a transformed landscape filled with hills. As she turns her attention forward again, a hole materializes in the ground before her. Curiosity piqued, she decides to explore its depths, repeatedly falling into it. Inside the hole, she encounters unfamiliar writing but is unable to comprehend its meaning. As she plummets, she realizes her discomfort and yearns for the people she left behind. With determination, she wills herself to exit the hole, successfully reemerging at its opening. In an act of command, she instructs the hole to close, and it obediently complies.

Continuing her journey for several days and nights, the narrator experiences neither thirst nor pain, despite covering considerable distance. Eventually, she spots a figure approaching, initially mistaking it for her mother. However, as the person draws nearer, she realizes it is a different woman entirely. When the mysterious woman reaches the narrator, she poses the question of what the narrator has been doing lately.

Instead of providing various possible responses, the narrator chooses to recount everything she has just shared with the reader. Notably, some details remain the same, while others undergo modifications. The story concludes where it began, with the narrator lying in bed as the doorbell rings, creating a cyclical narrative structure.


"What I Have Been Doing Lately" takes readers on a surreal journey through the narrator's dreamlike experiences. Jamaica Kincaid's compelling storytelling invites contemplation of the cyclical nature of life and the intertwining of reality and dreams. By exploring themes of curiosity, longing, and self-discovery, Kincaid's short story offers readers a thought-provoking exploration of personal identity and the enigmatic paths we traverse in our lives.


The Dream-like Narrative Structure

The narrative structure and style of "What I Have Been Doing Lately" exhibit a sense of illogicality that evokes the realm of dreams. The story can be interpreted as a dream-text, reminiscent of medieval dream visions where the narrator embarks on a journey, encountering archetypal figures and surreal sights.

Symbols and Interpretations

Jamaica Kincaid incorporates symbolic figures and archetypes in the story, which, akin to the condensed meanings in dreams, invite multiple interpretations. The hole in the narrative holds various interpretive possibilities. It can be seen as a symbol of ignorance, represented by the unfamiliar writing encountered by the narrator while falling into the hole. Alternatively, the hole may symbolize the acquisition of knowledge leading to a loss of innocence.

Ambiguity of the Hole

The interpretation of the hole as a symbolic 'fall' similar to the biblical story of Adam and Eve is challenged by the narrator's ability to reverse this knowledge. The narrator emerges from the hole and commands it to close, suggesting a retreat back into the realm of innocence. This ambivalence implies that the encounter with the hole represents the narrator's tentative exploration of knowledge before choosing to delay a complete fall.

The Passage of Time and Self-Discovery

The mention of years passing in a short period aligns the narrative with the dream-like experience, where time can stretch and compress unexpectedly. The gradual growth of the narrator, potentially from a girl into a woman, is implied. The woman approaching the narrator may symbolize the narrator's future self. Initially mistaking her for the mother, this figure signifies the transformative nature of personal growth and the changing dynamics between generations.

Cyclical Nature of the Narrative

The story's cyclical structure, beginning and ending with the narrator lying in bed while the doorbell rings, suggests a recurring dream. It also reflects the notion that the journey of coming-of-age and the pursuit of knowledge are not sudden or linear processes. Instead, they occur cumulatively over time, marked by setbacks, false starts, and returns. The story portrays a series of headlong experiences that leave an impact even as the narrator finds herself back where she started, ready to begin the process anew.

The Ambiguous Notion of Home

The final image of the narrator back in her bed raises questions about the possibility of truly returning home once we have embarked on our individual paths in the world. Kincaid's story resonates as a powerful exploration of growing up because the ambiguous narrative encapsulates the chaos and confusion inherent in the process. As we change and evolve, we may desire the stability and familiarity of the home we left, even if it may be forever altered. The figure approaching the narrator, initially perceived as the mother, could be an unrecognized manifestation of the narrator's own transformation, emphasizing the inevitable changes that come with growth and self-discovery.
Cookie Consent
We serve cookies on this site to analyze traffic, remember your preferences, and optimize your experience.
It seems there is something wrong with your internet connection. Please connect to the internet and start browsing again.
AdBlock Detected!
We have detected that you are using adblocking plugin in your browser.
The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website, we request you to whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.
Site is Blocked
Sorry! This site is not available in your country.