A Small Place

by tasharennie

In Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, the author takes her reader on an unexpected and thought-provoking journey to the place where she grew up. Antigua is a small island in the Caribbean, formerly of British rule, that is now a popular tourist destination. The book is split into four untitled sections. The first section uses the second person point-of-view, and starts out, “if you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see” (3). It goes on to describe the experiences a tourist might have upon arriving in Antigua. Presumptuous and provocative, Kincaid’s narrative intertwines the typical sights and feelings a tourist might experience with facts that only an Antiguan native could know, she states, “you must not wonder what exactly happened to the contents of you lavatory when you flush it…it might end in the water you are thinking of taking a swim in” (13-14). Kincaid paints a fairly unattractive image of tourists in general that leaves the reader feeling uncomfortable and defensive. In the second section, Kincaid uses her personal experiences in the colonial Antigua to examine the impact slavery and British colonialism have had on her nation and her childhood. She highlights the blatant racism, discrimination and enforced cultural conformity that she experienced growing up in a small country that belonged to a huge empire. Thirdly, Kincaid reports on the corruption and crime that blatantly exist within the post-independence government and the resulting neglect to the public, such as the public library for which repairs had been pending for many years. Kincaid’s final chapter is a curious contrast to the rest of the book. It describes the unreal physical beauty of the island as seeming, “as if it were stage sets for a play” (77). She finds the beauty that attracts so many Americans and Europeans to Antigua to be a mixed blessing for the Antiguans themselves because it also serves as, “a prison” that traps in its residents in a world of inescapable poverty while trapping out all the developments of the outside world (79).

A Small Place provides a brutally honest look at the impact of modern tourism on small, poorer nations. However, it also takes into account the part that a past of slavery and colonialism has played in shaping that developing country. Having immigrated to the United States, Kincaid is able to present both the insider and the outsider perspectives on this issue; however, the feeling of alienation, a result of this self-imposed exile, that the author harbors towards her former home is strong within the book. It is clear that Kincaid both loves and is disgusted by her former countrymen, and throughout the book she struggles to find a balance between wanting to assign blame for the cruelties of the past and searching for a way to salvage what is left of her culture and identity. Her views towards tourism lie somewhere between disgust for the ignorance and insensitivity that the ‘white people’ bring and reluctant acceptance of the necessity of tourism for a fragile economy. Nonetheless, it’s clear that she hopes that by reading her book, travelers will be able to come to her country with a full understanding of what it is to live in a small country of little significance in the world and perhaps limit the negative impact that they might have on its residents. Depending on the reader’s experiences, they may find A Small Place angry, accusatory and offensive; it could also create feelings of guilt and discomfort to readers who can see a part of themselves in the tourists. However, the truth that resounds within this novel, as well as the feelings of sadness and confusion, are undeniable and effective.

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