Tag Archives: Antigua

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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Library Symbolizes Education and Colonization’s Influence on Antiguans

In Jamaica Kincaid’s essay, A Small Place, she relates to the reader the personal connection she feels with the library of Antigua. There seems to be a deeper meaning to her description of the library; it is more than anger she has towards the government for failing to repair the beautiful library of her childhood after it was struck by an earthquake. She seems to be making a statement about the disrepair of the education of the people of Antigua. The library is a symbol of knowledge and the betterment of the human mind. Kincaid is appalled that Antiguans are not making a strong effort to repair the library. This signals to the author that Antiguans have no desire to further their learning; leaving the future of Antigua looking grim. It is a sign that Antigua’s problems will not be solved in the future because of the downfall of Antiguan’s level of knowledge.

What is more, the library of Antigua was a wonderful representation of Antigua. It was one of the few parts of the island that was able to keep a non-British identity. Kincaid describes the building as being, “painted a shade of yellow that is beautiful to people like me […] its big always open windows, […] the heat of the sun, […] the beauty of us sitting there like communicants at an altar” (42). This building was so beautiful that it had a spiritual meaning to Kincaid. It was a building which represented the true culture of Antigua, not the British version of it. It seems as though Kincaid is frustrated that Antiguans are not fighting to repair such a representative part of their life-style. Here is a representation of the British colonization of the island and how it has forever changed the people of the Island.



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Degradation of Education

Jamaica Kincaid obviously loves the library, and she makes this clear in the lengthy descriptions of it and the words she chooses to do so. Libraries are places of learning and knowledge, and that is why in this work the library represents the education system in Antigua. During the days of English colonization, the library was in pristine condition, absolutely beautiful, and a place of refuge for those, like Kincaid, who wanted to learn and do better for themselves. It was a sanctuary of learning and information until the earthquake, for the library was moved to a small, dingy building over a dry grocery. This change represents the change from a good, English education system to one governed by Antiguans. This education system was clearly inferior to the previous one, and Kincaid describes how people are basically illiterate and butcher the English language. Also there are limited opportunities for higher learning, besides the hospitality school, so the education system does not do its job, just as the library can no longer do its job. Most of the books are inaccessible either because they are packed away in boxes or the new librarians are incompetent.  Kincaid reflects on how it used to be, and say if you could see “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, you would see why my heart would break at the dung heap that now passes for a library in Antigua.” (Kincaid 42) Just as her heart breaks at what now passes for a library in Antigua, her heart breaks for what passes for an education in Antigua.


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The Library as a Symbol of Hope

The library stands as a symbol of hope for the people of Antigua. Although it has been over 10 years since the library was damaged the sign states “REPAIRS ARE PENDING” (Kincaid 42). The use of the word pending indicates that the government of Antigua believes in the educational purpose a library serves and plans to keep it as a valued part of society. Although the library was operational during the days of colonial rule, its now damaged state is a constant attribution to the shift from colonialism to self-rule, a further symbol of hope for the country of Antigua.  The library serves as a microcosm for the country of Antigua as a whole as each shifts from colonial to self-rule.  “Repairs are pending” as both the library and country are learning how to be self-sufficient.

Libraries serve as a place of education, so only those wanting to educate themselves would go to one. The natives of Antigua must first want to better themselves, and then they will find the appropriate funds for the library. Libraries can also serve as a place of escape, as one can be lost in history or in a fictional novel. The natives of Antigua could use this as an escape of their everyday life if they realized the importance of an operating library. Another reason having a library does not appear important to the people of Antigua is their lack of having a culture. Although there is a Minister of Culture appointed Kincaid points out, “in places where there is a Minister of Culture it means there is no culture”. (Kincaid 49) Perhaps the people of Antigua should focus on developing a culture of their own and with time a library too would arise.


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