In “A Small Place” Jamaica Kincaid recounts her life growing up on the island of Antigua while it was under British colonial rule. Kincaid’s sarcastic, overly aggressive tone makes the reader painfully aware of the state Antigua was in during and after colonial rule. This island was in fact, a small place. Just nine miles wide by twelve miles long. Kincaid begins her story:
“If you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see.”
Kincaid establishes the point of view immediately, leaving no room for confusion. You, are the tourist, “a North American or European – to be frank, white –” and you are not like her. She regularly uses the phrase “people like me” and “places in the world like this” to compare her reality to that of the white North American or white European reality. Kincaid’s “you” is a very small box that she places the reader in. In this way, Kincaid is taking the upper hand. She reverses the roles to make the colonized people, which are the Antiguans, the superiors. She places the blame for the state of Antigua on “you”.
“The Antigua that I knew, the Antigua in which I grew up, is not the Antigua you, a tourist, would see now. That Antigua no longer exists. That Antigua no longer exists partly for the usual reason, the passing of time, and partly because the bad-minded people who used to rule over it, the English, no longer do so…for no natural disaster imaginable could equal the harm they did. Actual death might have been better.”
The side of Antigua that Kincaid shows it not a pretty one, and her goal of shedding light on the corruption that has overtaken her island is clearly accomplished. She compares the European to the Antiguan: while the European tourist on vacation sees an island full of lush beaches and vegetation, the Antiguan is acutely aware of the fact that they are not even permitted access to the best beaches. The European is surprised to see the locals driving new British vehicles, while the Antiguan knows that those are the only cars they are allowed to buy, and even so they nosily run on unleaded gasoline because they do not have the proper gasoline for them.
In a particularly moving passage Kincaid romanticizes her childhood library. The library on Market Street, with a sign that read “This building was damaged in the earthquake of 1974. Repairs are pending” will never be repaired. The library now exists “above a dry-goods store in an old run-down cement-brick building” and all of the books are packed together in cardboard boxes decaying slowly, an embarrassment to say the least. But Kincaid longs for the library to be restored because it is a symbol of her youth where spent many hours reading, though they were books on the history of the British kingdom no less, the very umbrella of which she is trying to escape.
By the end of her eighty-one pages Kincaid’s words will ring in the reader’s ears:
“The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being.”
The anger that Kincaid feels is justified, and the reader does not have to be Antiguan, British, black or white to realize this. All people are just people, and you, the reader, are more than capable of making up your own mind. Kincaid has simply made sure that you now know both sides to the story.
This will be the first of several pieces on postcolonial literature.
All in quotations from:
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. New York, NY. 1988