For You Are a Tourist

by Parmis

A Small Place written by Jamaica Kincaid is an extensive essay which explores the history of an island unknown to many. As the title suggests, Antigua is a rather small island. It is situated in the West Indies and it’s population is just over 85,000. Antigua’s economy is based almost entirely upon tourism from North America. We North American’s specifically are known as “Tourists to the World” and before this book, I do not believe many of us considered this to be a bad thing.

Published in 1988, A Small Place provides a short and witty approach to a classical theme. As an immigrant herself, Kincaid provides a local historical perspective on Antigua which goes past that of factual evidence. This book is divided into four parts. The first shows the island of Antigua from the perspective of a tourist, an outsider. Just as first settlers onto a new island, we are new settlers into this book. Kincaid recognizes this, and provides an abundance of imagery as we embark on our journey of Antigua. As the book proceeds, instead of exploring Antigua through the triumphs of the island, we explore its very dark history of colonialism, slavery and corruption.

Kincaid is extremely aware of her audience, making this book an extremely interesting read. She is aware we are tackling this book from a North American mindset and plays to our strength and knowledge. North Americans are considered nosy, and as such Kincaid guides our thought process to exactly when one witnesses a new and unfamiliar society: “You look closely at the car; you see that it’s a model of a Japanese car that you might hesitate to buy; it’s a model that’s very expensive …” (7).

The true uniqueness of this book lies in Kincaid’s writing style. She begins very conversationally, while referring to her audience directly with the use of second-person narrative by her usage of the impersonal pronoun “you”. “If you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see” is the very first line (1). Kincaid carries a level of modesty throughout her writing. While she is trying to show us the truth behind her history, she doesn’t wish to alienate her reader with a bombardment of factual evidence. Kincaid illustrates a sort of dark humor throughout her story full of elements of irony and paradox and her sarcastic tone while also providing an informative look at Antigua.

In a convenient 81 pages, Kincaid delivers a strong and authentic message as we are guided through the history of Antigua in A Small Place. Antigua, as many other Caribbean nation’s economies are driven by tourism and the idea of a passive and relaxing exploration of a new culture. Kincaid forces us as readers to open our minds to our surroundings and see what lies beyond the white sandy beaches and into the lives and culture of the locals; into the lives of fellow human beings.

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