A Small Place

by: Jamaica Kincaid

Jamaica Kincaid

As a child, Kincaid is a close, critical observer of the behavior of the adults around her. Her attitude toward the visiting Princess Margaret is reminiscent of the child in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes: while everyone else is happy—even excited—to stand around for hours in the sun to catch a glimpse of the royal guest, the seven-year-old Kincaid is unimpressed. A voracious reader, the young Kincaid exhausted the children’s books in the library, and Kincaid explains that reading was a kind of escape from the frustration and boredom of her daily life. So passionate is the young Kincaid about reading that she steals books from the library.

As an adult, the same critical eye with which Kincaid saw through the pomp of the royal visit is turned on the island at large. She speaks bitterly of the corruption of the government and the passivity of the people, but the main force of her anger is directed toward the English who colonized Antigua. Kincaid lays the present predicament of the Antiguans at the feet of the English, for populating the island with their slaves in the first place and for educating descendents of those slaves to admire the country that enslaved them. Kincaid describes herself as so angry about England’s crimes that she cannot bear to hear England praised—she even speaks about her resentment at dinner parties. Her anger toward tourists is slightly less intense and is focused on the willful ignorance required of people to enjoy themselves in a desperately poor place. Unlike the average Antiguans she describes, Kincaid cannot resign herself to the past oppression and present corruption. She is mystified that more Antiguans don’t share her outrage, and is frustrated by their apparent acceptance of their status as bit players in the vacation videos of others. As the anger of the adult Kincaid reveals, she remains deeply attached to her home and to her people. However, Kincaid has no illusions about the future of the island and seems glad to have made her partial escape.

Although A Small Place is not a conventional memoir, Kincaid is very present in her memories and perceptions. It is important to remember that even in a memoir or nonfiction essay, the voice in the work who speaks to the reader as “I” is first and foremost a literary creation—a representation of the author within the work, rather than the author herself. In other words, the “Jamaica Kincaid” who appears in A Small Place is a character—a highly edited version of the real Jamaica Kincaid—created by Kincaid to speak to the reader on her behalf. Kincaid appears in the essay both in memory as a child, and in the present day as a grown-up who is trying to assess Antigua’s history and current situation, and to explain it all.