A Small Place – Jamaica Kincaid

As a child, Kincaid is a close, critical observer of the behavior of the
adults around her. Her attitude toward the visiting Princess Margaret is
reminiscent of the child in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes: while
everyone else is happy—even excited—to stand around for hours in the sun to
catch a glimpse of the royal guest, the seven-year-old Kincaid is unimpressed. A
voracious reader, the young Kincaid exhausted the children’s books in the
library, and Kincaid explains that reading was a kind of escape from the
frustration and boredom of her daily life. So passionate is the young Kincaid
about reading that she steals books from the library.
As an adult, the same critical eye with which Kincaid saw through the pomp
of the royal visit is turned on the island at large. She speaks bitterly of the
corruption of the government and the passivity of the people, but the main force
of her anger is directed toward the English who colonized Antigua. Kincaid
lays the present predicament of the Antiguans at the feet of the
English, for populating the island with their slaves in the first
place and for educating descendents of those slaves to admire the country that
enslaved them. Kincaid describes herself as so angry about England’s crimes that
she cannot bear to hear England praised—she even speaks about her resentment at
dinner parties. Her anger toward tourists is slightly less intense and is
focused on the willful ignorance required of people to enjoy themselves in a
desperately poor place. Unlike the average Antiguans she describes, Kincaid
cannot resign herself to the past oppression and present corruption. She is
mystified that more Antiguans don’t share her outrage, and is frustrated by
their apparent acceptance of their status as bit players in the vacation videos
of others. As the anger of the adult Kincaid reveals, she remains deeply
attached to her home and to her people. However, Kincaid has no illusions about
the future of the island and seems glad to have made her partial escape.
Although A Small Place is not a conventional memoir,
Kincaid is very present in her memories and perceptions. It is important to
remember that even in a memoir or nonfiction essay, the voice in the work who
speaks to the reader as “I” is first and foremost a literary creation—a
representation of the author within the work, rather than the author herself. In
other words, the “Jamaica Kincaid” who appears in A Small Place
is a character—a highly edited version of the real Jamaica Kincaid—created by
Kincaid to speak to the reader on her behalf. Kincaid appears in the essay both
in memory as a child, and in the present day as a grown-up who is
trying to assess Antigua’s history and current situation, and to explain it
all.