Tag Archives: Jamaica Kincaid

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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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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