Echoing the Big Issues of a Small Place

by Aurelea

By Hannali Popoca

In the opening of A Small Place, Jamaica Kincaid tells how you can turn into an “ugly human being”: you just have to become a tourist. She argues that from that moment you stop being a “whole person” and are reduced to an empty, unproductive, and disliked “stupid thing”. The angry tone of the narrative found mostly at the beginning of the book stresses Kincaid’s resentment towards the English and their empire. However, moving forward in the text, the reader will learn the reasons the author resorts to such strong language and narrative tone.

Kincaid shows the ugliness of tourism to present the bad deeds committed by European colonizers in her homeland, Antigua. Through her narrative, she takes the readers as tourists to this island and questions all the hypothetical moves they might do. This is to criticize how tourists, especially those from North America and Europe, use indigent people’s land and resources for their pleasure without considering the poor conditions which characterize the place. Tourists are seduced by the beauty of a place where impoverishment is part of the attractive scenery they have come to watch. They fail to understand that their source of joy is their hosts’ plight. Therefore the presence of tourists in the island emphasizes the subordinated role that Antiguans have been playing since colonization.

Continuing with their journey in Antigua, the readers encounter several particular places: the sea, the beautiful beaches, the streets, the Government House, a hospital, a sad elementary school, and a damaged library. These sites in the island are more than one might think. Those are symbols that in many ways represent the past and the present of the island and describe its political and economic situation.

By taking the readers as tourists, Kincaid places a magnifying glass in the small island of the West Indies which allows to clearly see the things that she is concerned about, and that tourists as outsiders are not able to see (or perhaps not willing to see): corruption, poverty, illiteracy, exploitation, and many other issues prevailing during and after colonization.

Kincaid’s powerful narrative and her ability to draw the reader into her world make A Small Place an absorbing reading experience. Her provocative writing gives more than one would expect to find in a small 81 page book.

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