A Small Place: Only on the Surface

by rachelmoxham

Within less than one hundred pages of A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid easily stirs up strong emotional and political thoughts for a reader, especially for one of the white, western culture. Kincaid writes about the Caribbean Island, Antigua, which is actually her own homeland. She describes Antigua to the reader, whom she puts into the role of a tourist, how they might see it, but she then educates the tourist on the true background of the island using her own role as a local. She illustrates the physical beauty of the place; precisely what draws the tourists in the first place. She continues by outlining the history of the island in a strikingly honest voice. She enlightens the reader on the British colonization, the racism that has resulted (and still remains), and the poverty that exists.

By speaking directly to the reader, and placing the reader in the role of a tourist, Kincaid greatly succeeds in creating a contradiction within the reader’s mind. Particularly if the reader is of the North American culture, one begins to feel a sense of guilt and confusion, firstly, for being able to relate to the tourist, second, for being ignorant of the realities of the places one has vacationed, and lastly for being able to use another’s reality as an escape from one’s own reality, but while doing so that “other” cannot escape their own reality. So often rich western tourists justify their travels with the thought that they are improving the economies of their destination, but Kincaid successfully trumpets that excuse but demonstrating the corrupt economic system of Antigua, and further perpetuates the reader’s sense of guilt.

Kincaid closes her writing by returning to the physical beauty of the island. There are many possibilities why she does this, but it still not enough to allow the reader to return a state of ignorance.

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