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A Small Place

Jamaica Kincaid

Character list

Plot Overview

Analysis of Major Characters

V. C. Bird -  The first postindependence Prime Minister of Antigua, and, with the exception of one five-year term, the only one. The Antigua airport is named for V. C. Bird. He is the head of an extremely corrupt government, and his sons are poised to take his place once he dies. This, along with the facts that Antigua has a standing army with nothing to do and that the government controls the media, leads Kincaid to worry about the long-term viability of democracy on the island.
The Head Librarian -  An imposing figure in the life of the young Jamaica Kincaid. The head librarian holds a culturally prestigious post, though a diminished one now. At one time, she worked in the beautiful old library in the central part of town. After an earthquake destroyed the library, the collection moved to “temporary” quarters—for over ten years. The head librarian’s struggles to raise money for a new library, and her makeshift bookroom above a dry goods store, render her a sad figure of the decline of the already meager cultural institutions on Antigua.
The Irish Headmistress -  A twenty-six-year-old woman recruited by the Colonial Office in England to run the girl’s school in Antigua. The headmistress often rebuked the girls by telling them to stop behaving “as if they were monkeys just out of the trees.” Her thoughtless racism is emblematic of the callousness of colonial rule and of the passivity of the Antiguans when faced with it.
Jamaica Kincaid -  The author and narrator of A Small Place. Kincaid makes use of personal experience and history in the essay, and the entire work is permeated with her anger and intelligence. Kincaid emerges as a character both as a young girl, desperate for knowledge and a wider world, and as an adult, looking at her birthplace with a ruthlessly penetrating eye.

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Kincaid’s Mother -  The author’s mother. Kincaid’s mother appears briefly in an anecdote that Kincaid tells about her political activity. Her brash opinions and loud mouth earn her a reputation as a troublemaker, and the Minister of Culture is not pleased to find her posting signs for the opposition party in front of his house. When he tries to snub her, Kincaid’s mother implies that he is a crook and that she knows all about it; the Minister retreats. Even in this brief scene, Kincaid’s admiration for and ambivalence toward her formidable mother are clear.
The “Other Prime Minister” -  The man, unnamed by Kincaid, who supplants Bird for one term. This Prime Minister campaigns as an enlightened democrat and promises to fight corruption. There are stories of dishonesty in his own past, including one that he destroyed the accounting books of one of his employers to hide his embezzlement. The great optimism that greets his election is soon quenched by the incompetence of his administration, and he is jailed after losing the next election.
Princess Margaret -  The younger sister of the future queen of England, Elizabeth II. Margaret makes a state visit to Antigua when Kincaid is a child. The entire island is spruced up for her arrival, and the princess is greeted by crowds who regard the visit as one of the great events in Antigua’s history. Years later, Kincaid learns that, far from being motivated by any particular interest in Antigua or the Antiguans, Margaret had simply been trying to escape a sticky personal situation back in England—she had fallen in love with a married man.
The Syrians -  Foreigners who have moved to Antigua to make their fortunes in business speculation. To the Antiguans, the Syrians are involved in most of the corruption on the island. Kincaid points out that they have connections high in the government and that they have become fabulously wealthy by renting properties to the government at exorbitant prices. She also implies that the Syrians may be involved in politically and economically motivated violence, such as the strange deaths-by-electrocution that befall certain officials.
The Woman from the Mill Reef Club -  A wealthy woman Kincaid speaks to regarding the rebuilding effort for the library. This unnamed woman is well-known for her dislike of the Antiguans in any role except that of a servant. She encourages “her girls” (employees) to use the library and wants to rebuild it just as it was before the earthquake. Kincaid sees her as motivated by nostalgia for the days of colonial rule and resents the woman’s smirking at the corruption of the post-independence government, though she also resents the accuracy of the charge.
“You” -  The personified reader whom Kincaid addresses throughout the essay. Especially in the first section, “you,” the reader, is characterized as a basically ordinary, middle-class American or European, mostly ignorant of Antigua’s history and of the lives of its inhabitants. “You” becomes the main focus of Kincaid’s attack on what she sees as the moral ugliness of tourism.

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