A Small Place

by: Jamaica Kincaid

Motifs

Main ideas Motifs

Direct Address to the Reader

Kincaid speaks directly to the reader throughout A Small Place, even accusing the reader of taking part in the moral ugliness of tourism. Kincaid begins by describing what the reader might see and think as a visitor to Antigua, and she refers to what “you” are probably thinking as “you” read. This direct address has two effects. First, it emphasizes that, from the Antiguans’ point of view, the reader is just as much a part of a generalized group as they are, and that he or she will not be seen as an individual but as a stereotype. Second, it forces the reader to consider the ways in which he or she does, in fact, fit Kincaid’s stereotype of a tourist. Anyone who has traveled to the tropics in search of a relaxing “getaway” is likely to find reading A Small Place uncomfortable due to Kincaid’s accusing, sarcastic tone. By addressing the reader this way, Kincaid hopes to intensify her angry denunciation of the state of things in Antigua by pointing her finger directly at the reader and anticipating the reader’s criticism. For Kincaid, any alienation that the reader feels is part of the plan.

“Unreal” Beauty

Throughout A Small Place, especially in the final section, Kincaid pauses to illustrate Antigua’s natural beauty. She describes the intense colors, the unrelenting sunlight, and the sea. She frequently uses the word “unreal” to describe the scenery, as though everything looks too perfect to be believable. This idea of unreality is part of what Kincaid sees as the effect of the island’s beauty on those who live or travel there. For tourists, everything, including the Antiguans themselves, is a kind of movie backdrop, a stage set up for their own enjoyment. The history and the sufferings of others are incidental, forgettable. For the Antiguans, the unchanging quality of the beauty suggests that their own lives are peripheral to a larger plan. When nothing changes, there is no sense of history or hope of development to motivate people. For Kincaid, the landscape is a determining factor in life on the island, but something morally neutral—the Antiguans’ daily blessing and their historical curse.