A Small Place

by: Jamaica Kincaid

Important Quotations Explained

3. I[I]f you could hear the sound of [the old library’s] quietness . . . , the smell of the sea . . . , the heat of the sun . . . , the beauty of us sitting there like communicants at an altar . . . , the fairy tale of how we met you, your right to do the things you did . . . you would see why my heart would break at the dung heap that now passes for a library in Antigua.

This passage, from the beginning of the third section, is part of Kincaid’s attempt to answer the question of whether Antigua was better off under colonial rule. The library perfectly captures the dilemma, as well as Kincaid’s ambiguous feelings about it. Kincaid’s loving, lyrical description of the library is one of the most tender moments in the book. The old library is like a church in Kincaid’s memory, and the current library above the dry goods store is a mockery of the old, now-damaged building. Kincaid’s nostalgia is undercut by a wary realization that the library served a political function in the old Antigua. To Kincaid, the library was part of the “fairy tale” of Empire—the story of how the British brought culture and civilization to the so-called savage parts of the world. Kincaid emphasizes that the ultimate purpose of the education she received under the colonial system was to teach her that the British were right to do what they did to win their empire and that her own status as a subject of a foreign crown was just. Kincaid’s emotional ambivalence is crucial to her portrayal of the library, which is itself ambivalent: formerly a lovely place and now a liberated “dung heap.”