Tag Archives: A Small Place

Close reading of “A Small Place”

A passage I found interesting in A Small Place that I would like to go back and evaluate is on page 14 when Kincaid calls tourists ugly human beings. She states, “The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being. You are not an ugly person all the time; you are not an ugly person ordinarily; you are not an ugly person from day to day; From day to day, you are a nice person” (14). In this quote Kincaid criticizes tourists as being “ugly human beings”. However, she says you are not an ugly person. The ugly person only exists and comes into being once you decide to be a tourist. As a matter of fact, she says, you are a nice person when you’re living you’re day to day life. But once you make the decision to become a tourist all of this goes away. The fact that Kincaid separates one as a tourist and one as “their self” into two distinct categories is quite interesting. How can one human being portray two different sides when making one petty decision. A tourist is what turns you “ugly” and “bad” from the “beautiful” and “nice” person you once were. Kincaid’s meaning behind this passage goes to show how much she despises tourists. Her evaluation of them in this passage is one that makes you, as the reader, stop and think, do I want to become this “ugly” person, the tourist? Or do I want her to accept me for me–the nice, beautiful person I am living my day to day life in my own city. Kincaid’s view of tourists will make us as readers who love to travel stop and think for a second if this is truly how all natives of islands/places we visit think of us? Or is this just Kincaid lashing out on tourists? Either way it goes, the novel in general points its fingers at all who travel and become tourists of a place when they do. She wrote this book for us.

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The Irony of Beauty in A Small Place

After rereading A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid, I have noticed the irony of beauty. We all know the difference between inner and outer beauty. For example, there could be a gorgeous model who is really an awful person on the inside. Her outer beauty is incongruent with her inner bitterness. I think it is interesting that this can apply to not only people, but places. Antigua is a gorgeous place to a tourist who is ignorant to real life on the island. However, through the eyes of a native, the reader learns the truth behind the beauty of the island.

Perhaps the most obvious example of the ugliness of Antiguan beauty is the gorgeous water that surrounds it. Kincaid warns, “the contents of your lavatory might, just might, graze gently against your ankle as you wade carefree in the water, for you see, in Antigua, there is no proper sewage-disposal system” (14). Also, many of the people in Antigua drive luxurious cars, which is nice to think of until the reader learns that the government has corrupted the car market in Antigua, making them the only cars available to people. They may drive theses gorgeous cars but, “the person driving this brand-new car… is far beneath the status of the car” (7). They have below average living conditions, but the reader would never realize that by looking at the quality of their cars.

Antigua has many things that are beautiful to look at. However Kincaid reveals their inner beauty, which is exactly the opposite of what the reader would expect.

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Deprivation of Education in “The Handmaid’s Tale” & “A Small Place”

I chose to write about this topic because we (as college students) know how important an education is to have and by having one how far it can take you. Not having one, limits your abilities and intelligence level. Education is key to success and in both novels, the government takes it away from the people and they have no clue what to think, feel, or to do to even try to begin to gain it back. The government knows their power in both novels and feel by choosing not to allow their people to receive an education will keep them in their control. A key point in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the women only being able to decipher the meaning of pictures, not words. A key point in “A Small Place” would be the library senario–its destruction, government’s promise to repair, and it still being closed after 10+ years after the earthquake. Some things I may not know about my topic are the viewpoints of people who do not have access to education, their capabilities (which I may be doubting them of having), personally knowing what it is like not to have an education.

Some things I want to further investigate are:

1.) Even not being allowed an education and no sources being able to get one, do people still manage to become knowledgeable? How?

2.) Why did they (the women in The Handmaid’s Tale and the people of Antigua in A Small Place)  not try to teach one another how to read/write how blacks did during slavery? Do you think they were afraid of the government or simply did not think of this idea?

3.) How does having a powerless society work for the government? Work against the government?

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Using An Enemy of the People and A Small Place to Reinterpret Capitalism

What has drawn me to write my final paper on A Small Place and An Enemy of the People is that the message of these books can have profound real-world consequences if interpreted correctly and taken seriously. Granted, most of the books we have read make some important statement about the nature of humanity, but these books, I feel, apply the most to our present society and problems in our country. With correct interpretation, these novels can lend some insight on how to re-interpret and analyze global politics. The part most useful to me in An Enemy of the People is when Dr. Thomas Stockman is ostracized by his community because his ideas are at odds with capitalist notions. Many parts of A Small Place will be helpful for my paper, especially when Kincaid speaks of how England, as a byproduct of their capitalism, left behind a disfranchised people. My paper will argue how these two books prove that capitalism, simply by selecting a group to be included, must always exclude some, and how it is in the nature of this system to sometimes take advantage of these disfranchised groups. My paper will also look at how these books may be used to reinterpret capitalism and how we may use these books to provide social and political insight into many of the global problems of today.  Things that I would like to explore further are:

  1. What exactly is the colonial history of Antigua? How does their past involvement in Britain’s capitalist system influence their political and economic success today?
  2. What are some issues today that represent a trade-off between economic success and morality such as the issue of the baths in An Enemy of the People? How do these issues tend to be decided?
  3. How do capitalist systems create disenfranchised groups in the novels and in real life?

 

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The Library: Faith after Broken Promises

In A Small Place, the library had a sign which clearly stated, “THIS BUILDING WAS DAMAGED IN THE EARTHQUAKE OF 1974. REPAIRS ARE PENDING.” At the time Kincaid wrote this novel, we see that the library had remained damaged for over more than 10 years. She points this out because not only did she love going to the library as a child, she had some sort of connection to it. She feels that since the library remains damaged and need repairs, there is nothing that can be done for Antigua, as a whole. The island people may not care about the library as much as she does; however, they should see since the library was not repaired (as promised) after the earthquake, that they should not expect much to be fixed/changed to help Antigua. They are living off of broken promises but at the same time, still have faith that the island, including the library will one day be restored. For them to feel this way goes to show how strong they are and how much faith they have in their island and government. However, Kincaid does not see it this way and knows that since it has already been 10+ years since the promise to repair the library has not been fulfilled, there is not much hope for the island at all. People in the town use the library to ready, better their education, and become more intelligent. But without it being accessible, how are they to learn? How are they to become educated? Get a job? They may not realize how much “damage” not having the library is causing them, but in the long run, that broken promise is causing them a lot. But yet and still, they have faith.

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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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The Legacy of the Library

The Library on the island of Antigua described in Jamaica Kincaid’s book A Small Place could be a symbol of many different things.  It could mean hope, or lack of progress, or it could even be a symbol for the entire nation of Antigua and all the struggles they are facing.  Antigua is a country that has been ruined by colonialism and is not in the process of finding a way to repair the legacy that the British left.  Similarly, after the earthquake the Library was left in ruins with the books being destroyed and a sign that simply reads “This Building was damaged in the earthquake of 1974. Repairs are pending” (Kincaid 42).  The same way that Antigua is forever waiting to repair the damage left by a force beyond their control, the Library is waiting to be restored to its former glory when it was a place of learning and an escape for the residents of the island.
Kincaid uses the issue of the Library to further illustrate the type of situation her people are stuck in.  Even something like a library that seems so essential has been left to rot without human intervention or protection.  The government and social situation that Kincaid sees on the island relates to this because the essential parts of a fair government are also being ignored and allowed to rot away into nothing.  Repairs on the government that has replaced the British are also pending, and until those issues are dealt with and those wounds are healed the Library will continue to be a symbol for the wreckage left in Antigua by the British, and it will never return to the symbol of hope and knowledge that the country needs.

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A Connection to the Outside World

The library of Antigua represents the possibility and hope that Antigua may look beyond their little island and see the rest of the world, thus expanding their minds so that they may see the whole of their own nation.  Kincaid mentions how the people of Antigua “cannot give an exact account, a complete account, of themselves”, a quote which contains a structure that is repeated throughout the paragraph to highlight the repetition that the natives face in their lives as they live from event to event (53).  Kincaid also uses the diction in this quote, specifically “exact” and “complete”, to emphasize the limitations that the natives face within their perceptions since they cannot understand the full extent of the horror of their situation.  The people cannot understand that they can change the island for the better because they are so isolated with nothing to strive for and no role models, or even just another country to compare.  The library is the solution to this problem as it acts as a connection to the outside world, where its knowledge allows the populace to understand the corruption in the government that they must fix.  This is demonstrated by how Kincaid is the only one shown repeatedly attending the library and is the only one to understand the problems that the island faces.  The library allows the natives the opportunity to connect with and understand the outside world in order to better their own island, but its treatment as it is neglected underscores the continued level of poverty and ignorance.

 

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The library as a symbol of opportunity

The library in A Small Place was for Jamaica Kincaid, before it was demolished by the earthquake, a symbol of opportunity. A library contains many books with endless answers and ideas to endless questions. Some books may also contain an escape- a story other than your own which you can imagine is your own for a short while in order to escape your own misery. So in this way, the library represented opportunity for Jamaica Kincaid with its many ideas to answer her many questions and many stories to fill her curiosity. Perhaps, in this library, the people of Antigua received some kind of hope that Antigua would one day be a better place as the books filled their heads with ideas of liberty and stories that always had happy endings where anything was possible.

The destruction of the old library, its ever-pending repairs, and the new dilapidated library above the dry goods store, all represent the destruction of this hope and of the opportunities that were once present for Antigua. No longer do the people have access to all of the libraries books: “… is too small to hold all of the books from the old building, and so most of the books, instead of being on their nice shelves, resting comfortably, waiting to acquaint me with you and all your greatness, are in cardboards boxes in a room, gathering mildew or dust or ruin. In this place, the young librarians cannot find what they want” (Kincaid 43). Perhaps the librarians now not being able to find what they want is an extended metaphor for the people of Antigua. Furthermore, after the destruction of the old library it seems that the youth of Antigua have become “almost illiterate” (Kincaid 43) because “…unlike my generation, how stupid they seemed, how unable they were to answer in a straightforward way, and in their native tongue of English, simple questions about themselves. In my generation they would not have been allowed on the school stage much less before an audience in a stadium” (Kincaid 44). Hence, with the increasing stupidity of the young generation of Antigua, Antigua finally loses all hope of coming out of its current corruption. With the fall of the old library comes the reduction of opportunities for Antigua.

 

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A Way Out

“Every native everywhere lives a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good and bad, is an attempt to forget this.  Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour.”  (Kincaid 18)

The library can do this.

The library contains books, yes, but these books are worlds, paths of escape to other places, times, adventures, and people.  In short, somewhere far away from where the reader is presently.  It is true the old cliché which says that reading books is a way for a person to see the world without going anywhere.  It is a place where dreams can begin, ideas are hatched, and inspiration is begun.   As a result, reading a book begins to start something in a reader–ideas.  Ideas that life in other places can be different, better, and even worse.  These ideas not only give a sense of motivation towards greater things, but most importantly they provide comfort in the present situation.

I know all these things to be true, growing up in poverty and blind to how immense the world was in which I lived.  I, too, found all these things in our only library and it made a lasting impression on me. Coming back to Antigua and seeing the dilapidated and demoted library, I can imagine how Ms. Kincaid felt:  robbed, heartbroken, and ashamed.  Her friend, her only “benefactor” (in a sense) was not simply gone, it was reduced in status and ability.  I would question that if there was no library, no decent library, how would other children find comfort and inspiration?  (Not to mention self-education?)  For some, the books on the shelves are their only tour, their only rest, and their only way out.

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