The Library as a Symbol for Colonialism

A library is considered a staple of a thriving town, or at least of one that seeks to thrive. Libraries are symbols of knowledge, of education. It is through education that individuals and communities seek self-improvement, and thus the existence of a library is a mark of that goal. The institution of the library by the colonists was not precisely an attempt by the colonists to improve the lives of the island’s inhabitants, but more so because it was natural: one builds a town, and as it grows, it requires certain infrastructures, such as a city hall, a jail, and a library. They were accustomed to having them in England, so it would be natural to have them in home away from home – Antigua. But the library Kincaid speaks of is also a symbol of that colonialism. The library used to be orderly, and housed, as Kincaid puts it, “the fairy tale of how we met you, your right to do the things you did, how beautiful you were, are and always will be” (42). It was destroyed shortly before Antigua got its independence, and the “temporary” location of the library is now in a dilapidated building above a dry goods store, with hardly enough room to house the books it is entrusted with. The old library, like the old Antigua, was highly structured, an outside institution, beautiful to the casual observer, but had lies within. The new library is the product of the new Antigua, blatantly ineffective and still carrying remnants of the old regime – the books of the old library. As the inhabitants of the island know that their library is in desperate need of repair, they know the same of the government. And yet nobody moves to change it.

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One response to “The Library as a Symbol for Colonialism

  1. aeernst

    I agree that the library can be used in many aspects as a symbol of colonialism, and I find it very interesting that you point out that the “new” library carries the legacy of colonialism with the books that were in the library that was destroyed. However, I don’t see your point about the lies within the old library. This library was a refuge for Kincaid, and I’m sure it acted this role for others as well even though it was an establishment of colonialism. The reader can obviously see Kincaid’s love for the library, and I do not believe it had any lies within.

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