A Small Place – Text Review

Jamaica Kincaid’s, A Small Place, tells the story of present day Antigua and how it has been shaped by British colonialism.  Despite being a popular tourist destination for Westerners, the real Antigua is described by the book’s narrator (and author) as corrupt and dilapidated.  Because this book deals with post-colonialism, I couldn’t help but think about Ahmad’s critique on Jameson’s Third World literature theory.  Although Kincaid writes about the effects of slavery and colonialism, she does so in her own voice and on her own terms.  Her work should not be disregarded as third world lit just because she talks about colonialism.  Likewise, her experiences should not be viewed as a single story of what life is like in Antigua.  According to the author, Antigua is a place ruined by the aftermath of slavery and British rule.  She describes that many of the major businesses were run by white people, some of whom refused to serve blacks or even respect their humanity.  The Mill Reef Club was one of these places and was built and run by Americans who wanted to use Antigua as a vacation spot.  They only allowed blacks into the club as servants and otherwise wanted nothing to do with the people living there.  Kincaid describes the owners as “unchristian-like” and  inhuman animals with bad manners (Kincaid 28).  Thus, she uses words a colonist might say about a slave to expose the white residents’ unabashed racism in a town that is not their own. 

Kincaid also condemns the tourists who visit Antigua for its tropical climate and beauty.  She assumes a western audience and directly calls out the reader by using “you”.  She writes that we tourists ignore the injustices we see and marvel at the quaint, impoverished lifestyles of the inhabitants.  In doing so, she lumps us (western tourists) together and constructs us as Other.  On the contrary, Kincaid also describes how Antiguans are Othered in their own home as a result of British colonial rule.  She writes that Antiguans were forced to speak English, follow British rules, and celebrate British holidays.  In this way, Antiguains can be thought of as subaltern.  Kincaid writes about the pain and humiliation of having to talk about the horrors of colonial rule in the language of their oppressors.  She says that “the language of the criminal can explain and express the deed only from the criminals point of view. It cannot contain the horror of the deed…” (Kincaid 32).  Similarly, I’m reminded of Persepolis in the way Antiguans are born and raised in English culture, but not accepted as English.  Both works depict people who struggle with identity and fail to be truly accepted in a culture in which they feel is their own.

A Small Place urges us as westerners to think deeply about how we act and perceive others.  Kincaid speaks directly to us and calls us out for our ugly behavior as ignorant tourists and bystanders.  She forces us to think about the injustices and power structures that we would rather ignore. Kincaid urges us to think critically about the things we take for granted and open our eyes to the inequities to which we have become blind.

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