Tag Archives: library

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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The Library as a Symbol for a Better Antigua

The library in Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place serves as a symbol for a time when Antigua was a better and more enjoyable place to live.  The way the author first talks about the library seems to have a sentimentality attached to it.  “I stole many books from the library.  I didn’t mean to steal the books, really; it’s just that once I had read a book I couldn’t bear to part with it” (Kincaid, 45).  This quote illustrates a time for the author when paying a visit to the library was fun, and certainly a highlight of her day.  The author has a love for books, so much that she would take the risk of stealing them when she didn’t want to part with them once it came time to return them to the library.  When the circumstances in a persons’ life are maybe not as they wish it were, they recall memories of times that they enjoyed very much.  I think this is exactly what the author is doing here.

The tone of the essay changed a little in this section; recalling when times were less complicated and when the shape of the library was much better.  She talks about “the earthquake” and how the library was essentially destroyed from its former glory.  “Repairs are pending, not repaired and the library put back where it used to be?” (Kincaid, 42).  Obviously, Kincaid is very upset at the fact that she does not have a suitable library she can visit anymore in Antigua.  Again, I believe she is remembering a better time when Antigua was a better and happier place to live (or a time when she was so young that she did not realize that the government was so corrupt) as it is when she was writing the essay.

 

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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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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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