Empty Promises

Kincaid includes the permanent hiatus of the library, in “A Small Place”, to expose the corruption of the Antiguan government. The government’s neglect for the library’s restoration exhibits their insatiable greed, because even though they have had every opportunity for repair, they have instead invested in more profitable establishments. This abandonment could be perceived as mere apathy, however, the library’s termination is actually conducive to the Antiguan government’s manipulative authority. Kincaid’s essay presents how the Antiguan government exploits its media to preserve their unscrupulous social structure.

Needless to say, the library is, or in the context of the story, was an institution funded and regulated by the government. It is clear that it is the government’s responsibility for the library’s reconstruction after it was destroyed from an earthquake in 1974. Deprivation of funding is clearly not an issue, which is evident from the copious markets being founded by the government, including the two main car dealerships in Antigua that are “owned in part or outright by ministers in the government” (Kincaid 7). What distinguishes these properties from the library is that they serve for the government’s best interest, profit. Libraries provide opportunities for an educated community that has acquired literacy and critical thinking skills that would aid the citizens to make informed decisions, but these benefits, however invaluable, do not include monetary gain for the state. The debased obsession for money is exemplified by the false accolade of the natives to graduate from hotel service schools. These graduations are televised to deceive the natives to aspire to for such lowly servient vocations that cater to the foreign (particularly Caucasian), rather than aiming for more meritable and empowering occupations, all for the financial prosperity of their government which capitalizes on their tourist industry.

The broadcast of the hotel school graduation is just one of the several ways the government manipulates its media to serve their best interest and conserve Antigua’s social structure. There is a great deal of symbolism of the government of Antigua from the library’s abolishment. Since its destruction, “a sign was placed on the front of the building saying, ‘THIS BUILDING WAS DAMAGED IN THE EARTHQUAKE OF 1974. REPAIRS ARE PENDING” which parallels Antigua’s motto of independence, “A People to Mold, A Nation to Build” (Kincaid 9). Both official statements imply an assurance for restoration which, after many years, has yet to be seen. Instead they seem to act as mere devices implemented to stifle revulsion from the people for their authority. By being written for display, their promises seem to be more tangible.
Another example of the government’s propaganda is how the radio will never mention other political parties that are not in power, except for opportunities for slander. This presents how the government has no reservations for manipulating the natives for their benefit, and to stagnate their culture. By silencing alternatives from the natives, there is no need for them to contest, because the natives are oblivious as to what to even contest for. This incapacity is present by the natives inability to distinguish racism. In reaction to mistreatment, the natives only think, “the people at the Mill Reef Club were puzzling.. not racist”, when they are so blatantly racist (Kincaid 34). The Caucasian foreigners try their best to separate themselves from the native Antiguans, and find displeasure when the natives are at their club as equals, not as servants. Because of the greatly similiar conditions of Antigua under colonial rule and self-governing rule, this social principle has been so ingrained into their culture without any alternatives that the natives do not consider this racism because they have no ability to comprehend what racism is.

The library is a symbolic and objective device for Kincaid to expose the corruption and greed for the Antiguan government. Just as the building is decrepit, with no opportunity for progression, the integrity of the government has fallen, devoid of expansion.

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