A Small Place with a Big Message

by blairesmith

Through A Small Place, a poetic 81-page memoir, Jamaica Kincaid announces her strong opinions of tourism, corruption, and racism. Often, her stance on an issue is so strong that the reader feels no other option but to agree with her. Kincaid’s passion for her birthplace of Antigua is very apparent through her descriptions of suffering such as, “They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives” (19). It is Kincaid’s passion that makes the book such a thought-provoking read.

The setting of the book is Antigua, Kincaid’s birthplace, a former British colony that gained independence in 1981. The author does not hesitate to blame British colonization and other developed countries for the problems occurring in Antigua today. She makes her feelings about some areas in particular very clear, “North America (or, worse, Europe)” (4). She goes on to refer to tourists from these countries as, “An ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that” (17). She blames colonization and tourists for much of the hardship Antigua faces. Whether or not this is true is debatable, but either way Kincaid does call some serious issues into play. One of the first introduced is water shortage, “What it might be like for someone who had to live day in, day out in a place that suffers constantly from drought, and so has to watch
carefully every drop of fresh water used” (4). Another is medical care, “If any one of the ministers in government needs medical care he flies to New York to get it” (8).

These issues are legitimate, but how the book is viewed will affect the messages that the reader takes away with them. If the book is looked upon as poetic and not as a series of essays Kincaid’s messages become much more effective. As a poem the book generates strong emotions. Readers may feel insulted with Kincaid’s accusations of tourists, or possibly feel sympathetic for the people of Antigua. Depending on the values of the reader, different feelings will occur, but an emotional reaction is guaranteed. If, on the other hand, the chapters are looked at as essays the reader will be greatly disappointed. Fallacies fill the pages, but one committed quite often is broad generalization. For example, Kincaid suggests that all tourists are alike by saying, “There must have been some good people among you, but they stayed home” (35).

Through A Small Place, Kincaid’s goal is to create awareness of the hardships such as slavery and corruption that Antiguan society has faced. Due to her passion, I believe she succeeds in this and does more. It would not be surprising if readers felt an obligation to avoid visiting Antigua as a destination spot, which Kincaid would be very happy about. Tourism in itself is not a bad thing, but I think the world needs more books like A Small Place to lift the curtain off the “behind the scenes” of a country. The book also sends a great message of what should really be important to us. Should we, as middle/upper class, be thinking about our beach holiday or the injustice, poverty, and corruption that developing nations face on a daily basis?

Word Count: 535

Works Cited

Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988. Print.

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