A Small Place

by: Jamaica Kincaid

Important Quotations Explained

2. Do you ever try to understand why people like me cannot get over the past, cannot forgive and cannot forget? There is the Barclay’s Bank. The Barclay brothers are dead. The human beings they traded, the human beings who to them were only commodities, are dead. . . . So do you see the queer thing about people like me? Sometimes we hold your retribution.

In the second section of A Small Place, Kincaid indicts the British colonial system and, by extension, the entire enterprise of European colonialism. She condemns the early capitalist system that traded in humans, turning them into a commodity no different from sugar or rum. The Barclay Brothers illustrate how historical acts of exploitation are never really over, despite our desire to pretend otherwise. After making their fortunes in the slave trade, the Barclays went into banking, and the financial institution they set up continues to operate worldwide. Ironically, Barclay’s Bank is the major banking company on Antigua, issuing loans and managing the meager funds of the descendents of the very slaves who were the source of the Barclay fortune. The Barclays are, in a sense, still profiting from those they exploited long after their deaths, which suggests the unending ramifications of actions that seem safely ensconced in history. Kincaid “cannot forgive and cannot forget,” because there is no way to undo the injustice of slavery, and, in a way, the injustice continues. The Barclays are beyond punishment, and their victims are beyond help. Kincaid can only keep the thought of them alive as a sort of “retribution.”