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A Review of "A Small Place" by Jamaica Kincaid

Updated on July 31, 2020
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Urooj is a student of literature. She likes to read and explore different literary texts.

"A Small Place" by Jamaica Kincaid
"A Small Place" by Jamaica Kincaid | Source

About the Author: Jamaica Kincaid

Elaine Potter Richardson was born on May 25, 1949, in Antigua. Antigua is a small island in the West Indies. Her mother, Annie Richardson, and her stepfather, David Drew, raised her. Her birth father, Roderick Potter, was not a part of her life growing up. Only after she left her home for New York and began writing did she begin using the pseudonym Jamaica Kincaid.

Her predominately autobiographical Annie John (1985) is critically acclaimed for its universal appeal as a coming-of-age story and its treatment of Indigenous Caribbean culture. Not having returned home in over twenty years, Kincaid wrote the book-length essay, A Small Place (1988), which chronicled her outrage at the devastation of postcolonial Antigua. Specifically, it discussed the corruption of the new leaders and the exploitation resulting from the influx of tourism.

In 1989, Kincaid received the Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1991, after the publication of Lucy (1990), Kincaid received honorary degrees from Williams College and Long Island College. Jamaica Kincaid teaches in the English, African Studies and African-American Studies Departments at Harvard University and lives in Vermont.

Kincaid plumbed her early life in Antigua, developing a series of "fictional narratives" centering on a young Caribbean girl. The stories are marked by a lyrically poetic, incantatory, rhythmic voice. Perhaps the most-discussed piece in the collection is "Girl," which is one sentence uttered by a mother to her child, listing in repetitive scrutiny a series of commands. Her breakthrough collection earned Kincaid the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Jamaica Kincaid
Jamaica Kincaid | Source

About A Small Place

A Small Place is a book-length essay written by Jamaica Kincaid. It is an autobiography in which Kincaid strongly expresses her opinion on the history of her native country, a small island called Antigua in the West-Indies. In A Small Place, described as “an anti-travel narrative,” Kincaid returns to her homeland after 20 years. She writes about post-colonial Antigua and discusses problems that took place on the island during the 1980s, particularly addressing the issue of tourism.

Based on the idea that "Antigua where the sun always shines and where the climate is deliciously hot and dry . . ." Kincaid argues that Antigua made itself exist only for the pleasures of its previous colonizers. Thus, although it is a free country on paper, it is not free from its colonizers. The book deals with Antigua being a former colony, a current tourist resort, and a country that has been affected by neocolonialism.

Throughout the essay, Kincaid discusses the aftermath and never-ending repercussions of the colonialist exploitation of her country by Western powers. The book is divided into three parts in which the author fleshes out her views and justifies her resentment toward globalization, exploitation, tourism, and colonialism. Antigua has a very dark history of colonialism, slavery, and corruption.


Jamaica Kincaid offers a brief history of Antigua that depicts how imperialism and colonialism can ruin things for a nation. Jamaica Kincaid is portraying the image of the Antigua she knew. She resents the British because of their humiliation towards the poor Antiguans. She says that the British who came from England colonized Antigua and that colonialism has caused distortions.

Kincaid starts her essay with great bitterness toward British people by calling them "bad-minded people" because the British were the ones who changed the Antigua completely. As she states that: ''The Antigua that I Knew, the Antigua in which I grew up, is not the Antigua you, a tourist, would see now.'' Through this ironic statement, she expresses the reality of Antigua having been colonized by the British to cater to Tourists.

She expresses her rage at British people because they stole away everything from the Antiguans and left them in a miserable condition. Kincaid also defines postcolonial Antigua. The criminals who came as tourists colonized Antigua. They replaced it, turning it into their territory through the criminal deeds just like how they changed the names of the streets to the name of the criminals.

Kincaid says that African-Americans have faced a great deal of political and social discrimination based on the tone of their skin. There were walls of the government house that had separated the Antiguans (The black men from white men) which they can never cross. She writes that "Government House surrounded by a high white wall and to show how cowed we must have been, no one ever wrote bad things on it; it remained clean, white, and high."

White people made Antiguans their servants and slaves.The health and education system got worse and had no attention paid to it. An earthquake left the library and other buildings destroyed. Also, a law was passed against the use of abusive language as the British were ruling over the Antigua. The Antiguans never had a language of their own, so how would they use words they didn't know. The English learned the words from a glossary of West-Indian terms so they could get a hold of people if they used any inappropriate word.

This essay is a perfect depiction of colonialism and imperialism because it has altered the whole infrastructure, both economic and social, of Antigua. They brought with them their British systems and laws. They destroyed the whole of Antigua with their worst systems.

"Since we were ruled by the British, we also had their laws." This clearly describes that British people eliminated the system of Antigua and replaced it with their system. Being more sarcastic in her tone and to impress upon the ideas of Britisher's cruelty, she uses an example to illustrate her point: ''There was a law against using abusive language, can you imagine such a law among people for whom making a spectacle of yourself through speech is everything.'' With much bitterness, she taunts at their law of using abusive language.


The Adverse Effects of Colonialism

To awaken the Tourist by telling the history of Antigua, she portrays a clear image of Antigua. She also uses some evidence to clear the mind of tourists and the reader. The sign of Government house and library clearly shows their ruling power. The house where they used to live remained clean, white, and high but the library that was the property of Antiguans remain destroyed after the earthquake. The library stands on both the literal and a metaphorical fault line. This clearly defines the distortion of the beauty of Antigua. she portrays the situation that Antiguans had faced while they were colonized.

''But what I see is millions of people, of whom I am just one, made orphan: no motherland, no fatherland, no God, no mound of earth for the holy ground, no excess of love which might lead to the things that an excess of love sometimes bring, and worst and most painful of all no tongue."
Through this emotional statement, Kincaid tells the real situation of the Antiguans. They lived like orphans with no motherland and fatherland. They had no shelter.
After telling the dark history of Antigua and the situation that they faced after being colonized she comes to their language. After doing a great sarcasm on the British people, now she comes to her language, "language of the criminal." English is the language of the British people that are the criminals in the eyes of Antiguans because they were the reason for the great distortion of Antigua.
Then came the Barclay brothers who were the slave traders. They made a lot of money through slavery. But when slavery got banned, they started paying attention to their bank named Barclays bank. They got eventually rich through this business. But Kincaid says that she cannot forget the past. She cannot forget what Barclay brothers did to Antiguans, to the slaves they traded. The money they invested in their banking business, was the money they earned from slave trading. The reality is that those enslaved humans are dead now, Barclay brothers are dead now. Hell is very less punishment for Barclay brothers while heaven, a very less reward to those slaves.
The human beings they traded, the human beings who to them were only commodities, are dead. It shouldn’t have been that they came to the same end, and heaven is not enough of a reward for one or hell not enough of a punishment for others….'
Kincaid says Antigua never had a history of their own. When the British came, they changed turning everything. From their culture to their traditions everything got replaced. Antiguans do not know their ancestors. They do not know about the first person who ruled them. So whenever they would recall their history, they would know that they were enslaved. British taught Antiguans the history of England.
We taught the names of the kings of England. In Antigua, the twenty-fourth of May was a holiday Queen Victoria's official birthday. We didn't say to ourselves, has not this extremely unappealing person been dead for years and years?
Kincaid is angry with the North Americans when they tell her about beautiful traditional England. British made Antiguans the orphan because they snatched their motherland. They are not patriotic because they do not have a country to call their own. They have no religion. What the British have taught them, they learned it. And most importantly, they have no language, no mother tongue. British taught Antiguans the crime because the British are criminals. As Kincaid says in her style of writing:-
'For isn’t it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime. And what can that mean? For can the language of the criminal can contain only the goodness of the criminal's deed.
The Antigua Jamaica Kincaid knows, revolve around England. She is also sarcastic about the racism prevalent in Antigua. How ironically she says:-
'The headmistress was ill-mannered, not racist; the doctor was crazy – he didn’t even speak English properly, and he came from a strangely named place, he also was not a racist; the people at the Mill Reef Club were puzzling (why to go and live in a place populated mostly by people you cannot stand), not racists. . . .'
They imposed their laws, terms, and regulations on Antiguans. They destroyed the identity and culture of Antigua.
Kincaid also attacks the previous government of Antigua for their irresponsibility and lack of concern towards Antigua. If only they had been cautious the real Antigua, Antigua before colonialism never have been replaced. s Kincaid uses anger throughout A Small Place to construct a position for the reader and to provoke emotions such as shame, to expose the 19 West of their crimes. It may well be that the tourists in recognizing their failure seek to reconcile so they can live up to their ideals.


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