Imagine you’re a tourist vacationing on a small, tropical island located in the West Indies.
This is what Jamaica Kincaid asks us to do while reading her creative non-fiction novel, A Small Place. Addressing her readers directly using second-person narration, Kincaid expresses her political and personal views on the economic situation in Antigua, her home country. Interestingly, she places us in the position of a “tourist”, using this perspective as a lens to view Antigua.
Kincaid carries us through Antigua using a narrative voice. Her prose guides us through the beautiful scenery of the island. However, it simultaneously points out the flaws of the government and the “ruins” that British colonial rule have left, such as small hospitals and closed-down libraries.
Kincaid continuously points out issues with seemingly innocent activities or roles that a tourist would perform. At one point, Kincaid mentions things that would never cross a visitor’s mind while walking on Antigua’s beaches, including how locals suffer from the drought even though there are oceans nearby and they carefully watch the amount of fresh water they use. These issues are not limited to Antigua only. Kincaid simply uses a country she is familiar with to emphasize the problems that many similar countries encounter.
As the narrative progresses, we learn that Antigua holds more history and depth than a mere vacation spot. Kincaid touches upon subjects of post-colonialism and racism, highlighting the effects it has on a country like Antigua. She brings her personal experience into the novel, including how she dealt with living in a country so influenced by British culture, and how her identity and upbringing in Antiguan culture was shaped by colonialism.
At times, it seems that Kincaid is accusing us, the tourists and readers, of being contributors to the problem. While this may seem like a bitter pill to swallow at first, it becomes clear as we delve further into the story that Kincaid’s novel is more of a hopeful call to arms, delivered by harsh truths.
Reading A Small Place has opened my mind to a whole new set of realities that we tend to overlook as tourists to a foreign land. Kincaid’s novel is a short but informative read, expressing the important issues we face today. A Small Place leaves us with the idea that when labels are removed, we are all equally imperfect and human.