A Small Place: Angry, Unfortunate, Accusatory, but Necessary

by melaniewyn

I strongly recommend the book A Small Place to any potential tourists; and since, as Jamaica Kincaid herself points out, “every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere” this book is a must read for everyone (18). Kincaid’s book highlighting Antigua, from a tourist and a native point of view, is enlightening. However, readers must be prepared to find anger, unfortunate truths, and accusations directed toward themselves between the covers.

The tone is angry. As the editor of The New Yorker put it, A Small Place “was very angry. Not badly written. Angry.” (qtd by Bouson 93). This is why Kincaid’s essays—originally intended to be published in the New Yorker where she was a staff writer—were published into a separate book instead of a magazine. However, the book’s anger is necessary; there is no other way to express the wrong-doings of so many on the natives of Antigua. Kincaid and this book are angry, and they have every right to be.

Readers will begin to understand this anger as they find out about many of the atrocities the Antiguans go through on a daily basis. From corrupt governments to ex-slave traders still making dirty money; from tourists to big corporations in a tax-free zone; it seems that the Antiguans have lost their sense of self due to the daily barage of imposition from others. They gained emancipation years and years ago yet somehow this does not seem to have fixed the overarching problems. As Kincaid says,

[h]ave you ever wondered to yourself why it is that all people like me seem to have learned from you is how to imprison and murder each other, how to govern badly, and how to take the wealth of our country and place it in Swiss bank accounts? Have you ever wondered why it is that all we seem to have learned from you is how to corrupt our societies and how to be tyrants?” (34).

and thus readers realize that Antiguans are suffering, and blame could be placed on one’s own society.

This quote is an excellent example of how readers are implicated as the wrong-doers in Kincaid’s book. The first few pages may be difficult to read for this reason. However, is this wrong? Many people from North America—who we realize is her main audience as we remember that the essays were originally intended for the New Yorker magazine—travel to other countries often. We stay in all-inclusive, five-star hotels and don’t think about how our actions are affecting others. Even the most enlightened tourists are having an impact on the world they enter. From this more understanding place the reader should continue and take from the book the lessons it has to share.

Do not be turned off by the anger, scary facts, and accusations presented in this book. Kincaid may bring a point-of-view to tourism you had not considered before, but this is good. Learn from other tourists’ mistakes, understand how you are impacting others, and figure out how to do better next time. Feed off of Kincaids anger, get angry, and do something about it. Don’t sit idle. These are the lessons we can take from Kincaids’ edgy and brilliantly written book A Small Place.

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