Of the two short stories I read this week, “The First Day,” by Edward P. Jones, was my favorite. This story is told from the point of view of a woman remembering her first day of kindergarten, and details the challenges that the narrator’s mother faces while trying to enroll her daughter. Though the story is written in first person retrospective point of view, Jones has made this easy to forget through his use of present tense for the majority of the story, in addition to his attention to detail. Throughout the story, the narrator places particular emphasis on the appearance of herself, her mother, and those around her.
From the beginning paragraph of the story, it is clear to the reader that the mother seems to correlate appearances with the ability to attend school. She seems to have taken great pains to make herself and her daughter look respectable. The narrator divulges to the reader that everything she is wearing is new, something that appears to be a novelty to her even at such a young age. She calls her shoes “black patent-leather miracles,” and even speaks of the plastic that her underwear came in with a kind of reverence. The narrator also talks about how her mother spent an unusually long amount of time braiding her hair that morning, “plaiting and replaiting” so that each braid is “twisted into an uncommon sturdiness.” At both schools the mother and daughter visit, the narrator talks about fashionable women who look like they stepped out of an Ebony advertisement. This appearance of affluence contrasts with the image of the mother’s darned sock that the narrator provides at the end of the story. The level of detail, especially in the first paragraph in which the narrator describes her clothes, also makes the story feel more immediate, even though it is actually meant to be a memory of an important day.
Over the course of the entire story it seems that the narrator’s mother is almost scared that the school officials will think her daughter is not good enough to attend their institutions, which is why she dresses her daughter in new clothes and provides so many documents relating to her daughter’s life. While reading “The First Day,” it can be easy to forget that the story is written in a retrospective point of view, as the use of present tense and detailed descriptions of clothing and the day’s events make the story seem immediate.