A Literary Analysis of What I Have Been Doing Lately

“What I Have Been Doing Lately” is the wandering journey of a mysterious narrator. The story begins with her lying in bed when the doorbell rings. Her state of (unconsciousness is not revealed. (Does she wake up?) The settings of the story shift within an undefined and vague time and space. A story of coming and going, return and departure, the narrator walks and walks, leaving familiar landscapes to enter unfamiliar ones to return to the familiar again. The sections of the story merge eventually into a circular narrative, a doorbell ringing in the parting and in the closing lines.

With an additional word, a twist of sentence structure, Kincaid differentiates the first section from the second and transforms the agency of the subject. She heeds the call of the doorbell in the first section by running downstairs. Quick. In the second part the action is slowed, “I went downstairs and opened the door but there was no one there.” In the first section, she walks past the monkey, merely noting its existence. In the second part, she throws several rocks at it. Her inability to build a bridge strands her on the shore of the large body of water in the first section, while in the second section, she pays a fare and rides a boat across.

This trend does not hold to be entirely true throughout the two sections. Although the narrator is much more active in the second section, one of the most stunning scenes in part one is when the narrator asks “what’s down there?” and purposely throws herself into a hole. Not only does she throw herself in, but she reverses herself. Tying in with my reading of the story as a dream, I would identify this is an example of lucid dreaming; the ability to directly control, change, or manipulate a desirable or undesirable aspect of a dream. This ability, however, is a slippery one, manifesting infrequently, not usually a regular occurrence. At the end of the story, the narrator is still trapped in the ringing doorbell cycle, and is miserable. Instead of the unconscious resorting to lucidity, she comforts herself, strokes her own head.

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