Samuel E Evans

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Progym: Chreia

“In the Antigua that I knew, we lived on a street named after an English maritime criminal, Horatio Nelson, and all the other streets around us were named after some other English maritime criminals” (24).

Jamaica Kincaid’s writing in A Small Place provides a brilliantly snarky and firm, though very enlightening, perspective on the post-colonial experience. She describes how during the colonial days Antiguans were taught “good behavior,” meaning submission to an oppressive system, as were other colonial subjects. They were exploited and maltreated, only to be left, stranded, once the colonialists decided they’d had enough of the place. This left the Antiguans, as many others, with only a poor, and continually exploitative framework of a government, and an economy that operated much the same.

Kincaid’s writing serves to provide some contrast to more gentle pieces on the subject, as coming from her firsthand perspective, it packs even more punch. She provides an excellent, gripping analysis of the continual mishandling of her home nation by the government and foreign actors. She describes how tourists and foreigners, arriving by plane and escorted to their seaside hotel palaces, employ a highly selective tourist’s gaze, managing to ignore or even find some sense of quaintness in the island’s troubles. Kincaid strips any tourist or foreigner lens away, providing the most direct and wonderfully sarcastic commentary possible to do so.

In some ways similar to A Small Place, I have previously enjoyed reading Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River. Naipaul’s novel, like A Small Place, is a kind of account of post-colonial Africa, in this case from a fictitious first-person perspective, and set in somewhere in Central Africa. However, Naipaul appears to argue somewhat in the favor of the colonizers, saying that post-colonial Africa descended into a kind of Hell, and largely attributing this to the locals. This could be attributed to the protagonist, Salim, being an Indian-African man who is a foreigner in the land he now finds himself in, though the novel still certainly takes a differing stance overall than Kincaid does.

There are innumerous examples to corroborate Kincaid’s argument, from the struggles of post-colonial India to the division of the Middle East to Russia’s many invasions into and long-lasting subjugation of Central Asia. It seems to be the norm, not the exception, that colonized peoples are left with far less than they started with after their colonizers recede. Also, Kincaid’s description of the foreign exploitation of less developed nation is even easier to point out, especially in our now massively globalized world, as well as our ease at overlooking this fact when we buy Bengali-made clothes or travel to stay in luxury resorts built next to shantytowns across the tropical world.

Kincaid has been massively praised for her writing in A Small Place, and in many other works, and is a professor at Harvard University. Her writing is widely applicable, though is also highly specific and personal to Antigua, and her experience there. This makes it both very moving and memorable, and certainly something to ponder on your next voyage to the pink sand and bottle-blue seas of the Caribbean.

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