A Small Place

by: Jamaica Kincaid


Kincaid address the reader, “you,” throughout A Small Place, especially in the opening section, in which she describes the vacation experience that a “typical” tourist would have in Antigua as well as what this person doesn’t understand about this place. Kincaid’s “typical” tourist is a white, middle-class person from Europe, the United States, or Canada, with the attitudes and assumptions Kincaid thinks are common to those with this background. The details of Antigua that Kincaid chooses to describe or emphasize are those that, to her, would be most striking to a comfortable, bourgeois, Western tourist. Kincaid characterizes “you” as basically well-meaning but ignorant and somewhat callous. “You” have an ordinary life at home, with people who love you. Your travels are motivated by boredom, and you want to observe the lives of others in a beautiful place.

For “you,” everything about the lives of the Antiguans, from their clothes to their personal habits, seems interesting and picturesque. What Kincaid wants to emphasize is that the lives of these others will always be opaque to an outsider, for whom they are part of the scenery of the “small place” they have chosen to visit. “You” are bound to miss the significance of such things as the noisy Japanese cars and the giant mansions. “You” are pleased that “your” trip is unlikely to be ruined by rain—but don’t understand the difficulties caused for the residents by a lack of fresh water. For Kincaid, however nice “you” may be at home, “you” are ugly as long as “you” are a tourist—someone for whom the poverty and labor of others are merely distractions from the boredom and emptiness of “your” own existence.