Abuse is a Dish Best Served in a Book of Ninety Pages or Less

by thegamboler

Jamaica Kincaid’s’ A Small Place is a very personal piece of writing. Not only does it relate the author’s personal experiences and opinions of her birthplace, the island of Antigua, but it is also written as a very personal attack on the life and values of me, the hapless reader. This short book starts by stereotyping, generalizing, and admonishing me as a member of a moderately wealthy, white, Euro-American tourist populous. “A tourist is an ugly human being.” (14) The five pages following this statement outline how, based on the assumed motivations for my recreational travels, I live a clichéd existence of mediocrity punctuated by the luxury of vacations that I see as necessary to escape the banality of my own life. Once arriving at my vacation spot of choice, I attempt to fit in to, or at least appreciate the quaintness of the lives led there, all the while looking like a fool to the locals. The book continues with contemptuous writing of the same ilk, making claims about the ideals and perceptions of the reader especially with regard to the extensive corruption in the government around the time of publication (1988) – which caused hardships for the common residents – juxtaposed with the lives of foreigners and the remnants of colonial rule. The effectiveness of this piece of writing comes in large part from the cunningness of the sarcastic prose. Its stream-of-consciousness format incorporates arguments, examples, accusations and rebuttals in one long thought, all before you can manage to take issue with the premise of the statement or begin to clarify a response. The author makes liberal use of the parenthesis, in both the left and right varieties. Perhaps the more profound observation to be made about this book is that every accusation, every stereotype has some sort of truth to it, at least for this reader. I am moderately wealthy and white. I have been that tourist feeling slightly uncomfortable in a culture slightly different from my own. I am of English descent and feel a sense of connection to (even romanticism about) the glory of the English Empire at its height, despite never having lived in the country. Is this the effect on me of the Anglo-glorifying version of history described on pages 30 and 31 of the book? I wonder if this essay has as striking an effect on someone who doesn’t fit the stereotypes of the reader as well as I do. Would someone who isn’t white, or who wasn’t raised to feel some sense of loyalty to the Crown react as strongly to the accusations of evil on the part of colonizers? Would they be more able, “to accept that [the corruption in modern Antigua] is mostly [their] fault?” (35) The strength of this book relies on the reader identifying with the “you” to whom the book is addressed. That being said, its provocative tone and theses will lead to a compelling read for anyone.

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