Tag Archives: Kincaid

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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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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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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The Library as a Reflection of Antigua Before and After English Rule

In Kincaid’s A Small Place, she places a heavy emphasis on the library of Antigua and its history for the people, before and after English rule. Though Kincaid makes her distaste for the English obvious when she refers to them as “the bad-minded English” (41), they must have been doing something correctly if the library was in better condition during English rule than it was during the time this essay was written. Because of this, Kincaid suggests that the library is a reflection of the Antiguan people in their current state of self-rule: uncertain of how to recover from an earth-shaking wave of destruction. The library was at the mercy of The Earthquake of 1974 in the same way the Antiguan people were at the mercy of the English.

When the English were in control of Antigua, the library’s books were “on their nice shelves, resting comfortably” (43). When the English dominated the island, the Antiguan people were forced to maintain a similar image of orderliness and polished appearance. After English rule was diminished and The Earthquake brought destruction, the books in the library resided in “cardboard  boxes in a room, gathering mildew, or dust, or ruin” (43). In the same way, the Antiguan people’s stagnation made them more bitter and confused (about how to conduct their self-rule) with each day that passes.

The sign on the library that reads “This Building was damaged in the earthquake of 1974. Repairs are pending.” (42) suggests the same idea for Antigua: since the end of English rule, Antiguans were left in ruin on their violated island they recognize as home. Now left to maintain self-rule in Antigua, the positive changes the Antiguan people want to see in their island are pending until the day they take the necessary steps to implement them.

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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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The Library as a Symbol of Decay for the People of Antigua

The library in A Small Place serves as a symbol of continued decay for the people of Antigua. At one time, Kincaid describes how the library was a beautiful place that she would visit often and how she admired the librarian very much; however, after the earthquake, the building housing the library was unable to function safely. Kincaid goes on to say, “…you would see why my heart would break at the dung heap that now passes for a library in Antigua” due to the fact that all of the books and state of the library are being kept in a ruined state.(Kincaid 42). The books are decaying in boxes, as well as the building that the library used to be in. It is interesting to see how the corrupt government of Antigua has not taken interest in repairing the old building that the library was in—this might have been another way they were censoring the types of information that the people of Antigua had access to. Just like the decaying building and books, the overall attitude of the people of Antigua is also slowly decaying as they lose a sense of hope for things to improve in their country. With a corrupt government, the people have a constantly dwindling sense of desires because they know that they are virtually helpless. Just like the decaying library, the people of Antigua see their lives decaying before them. Even in such a beautiful place, the grass isn’t always greener.

 

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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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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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Instructions for Blog Post #8 – A Small Place

Kincaid’s focus on the library in A Small Place is an important aspect of the text.  She tells us that she read books as a small child, even stole some.  So, she personally feels some connection to the library, but there is a more important connection she makes between the library and the whole nation of Antigua.  What is the connection she is making?

How does the library act as a microcosm (and an extended metaphor and a symbol) for Antigua?  It is not simply that the library shows the never-changing, always-the-same mentality of some people on the island, but it does something more?

Think about who goes to libraries, what types of people, and how such people use the libraries.

**Do not argue that the library is simply a symbol of nothing changing for the good in Antigua.

As always:

  • Give your post a good title.
  • Add tags (keywords) to the post.
  • Posts must be at least 250 words.
  • Posts must include at least one quotation from Kincaid’s text.
  • Stay focused on answering the prompt. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer.  Remember to clarify the importance of your post.  Don’t just tell us that something is “important”; rather explain why it is important.
  • Make an argument.  Don’t summarize the text.
  • Use specific moments from Atwood’s book to support and illustrate your argument.
  • Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotations.

This response is due before class on Thursday, March 17th. Blog comments (at least 2) are due before class on Tuesday, March 21st.

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