Circumstances Made Me What I Am, Everyone Must Understand

by bubblesheets

Like the unyielding Antiguan sun beating down with constant intensity on “pastrylike” vacationers, in A Small Place Jamaica Kincaid is relentless in scorching the Neo-colonialism of modern Caribbean tourism and its defilement of her native land. Making no attempts to befriend the reader Kincaid artfully generalizes, and then embarrasses (à la Reductio ad absurdum) the behaviour of all “white” visitors.

Kincaid immediately creates rigid borders and boundaries between the “real” Antiguans, descendants of black slaves who inhabit the island (who she describes as “we”), and “tourists”, North Americans (or, worse, Europeans). She is precise in conjugating these pacified, modern-day tourist with the colonial suppressers of the past with the isolating moniker “you”, symbolic of her tethering of past abuse with present leisure. “Well, it’s because we, for as long as we have known you, were capital, like bales of cotton and sacks of sugar, and you were the commanding, cruel capitalists,” this illustrates not only Kincaid’s explicit division between outsiders and insiders but her dogmatic vision of the influence of “us”, North Americans (or, worse, Europeans).

She speaks to the reader as if in conversation at a dinner party back in New York; impassioned, unapologetic, communicating as fast as her words can clarify her thoughts and anger. Kincaid disseminates information in a dictatorial lecture revealing one of the book’s best qualities; her multifaceted, multi-disciplinary approach to understanding Antigua’s current condition. She utilizes history (using dates and names to punctuate the transcendence of colonial control), anthropology (referencing the semantic determinism of the colonial English language), politics and economics (to detail the corruption that has befallen her country post-colonization), folk story telling (to plant herself firmly in the camp of “insider”), as well as sociology, psychology and philosophy to ground and enrich her judgment.

Kincaid’s vitriol comes from a place so deeply human, so sincere that her utter hatred is not only palatable but at times beautiful. Her outrage comes from empathy, an uncontrollable yearning for the place and people she loves to become half-respectable under their own rule. Her indignation with Antigua’s enslaved history is countered by her struggle to find hope in its bleak contemporary state. Her personal struggle of observing Antigua’s collective struggle makes this book relatable to anyone who has cared a little too much for something that seems to never quite be all that it could.

“We” are certainly to blame for the problems of the past, but how much of the problems of the present are rooted in the past? This dilemma faces Kincaid throughout. Her target widens to include tycoons from the Middle East, modern-day colonizers through Globalization. Their stranglehold on the country and its politics perpetuates Kincaid’s rendering of the “real” Antiguan’s power struggle against outside forces. Despite her narrative point of view Kincaid is actually an “insider” living outside, residing in the United States. This separation exacerbates her feelings of helplessness but dissolves potential biases carried by true insiders, thus strengthening the power of her message.

The ever present tourists serve as a constant reminder of the affluence gained by whites on backs of black slaves. The visits of “outsiders” a continuation of the benefits reaped from a period the “insiders” cannot escape. Despite the potential for Jamaica Kincaid to close with dystopian exhaustion she instead comes full circle. The re-romantification of an ex-pat with her homeland, a place both her child and her parent, invokes one final human quality: devotion. Whether it’s pursued as an insider’s view of post-colonialism, observed as a literary triumph of one writer’s violence against the world, or understood through the emotions of facing inequality and wrestling your past, present and future A Small Place rewards on so many levels that it is not to missed by any reader.

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One Comment to “Circumstances Made Me What I Am, Everyone Must Understand”

  1. I felt the introduction a little confusing with a few too many quotations and brackets, but the third paragraph is fab. I like your setting of a dinner party, since it proabably did start in a similar situation 😀 followed by the emotionally raw “this book is relatable to anyone who has cared a little too much for something that seems to never quite be all that it could.” and “separation exacerbates her feelings of helplessness ” How true.
    Strong summary and overall a well described and analytical review 🙂

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