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A Small Place

A Small Place is a part fictional and part autobiographical novel published in 1988 by Jamaica Kincaid. The work is an indictment of the Antiguan government, the tourist industry and Antigua's British colonial legacy. After experiencing a frustrating and complex childhood, Kincaid expresses her opinions about Antigua, a small Caribbean island. The book can be viewed as composed of two parts. In the first part, the narrator describes the typical tourism experience and how tourists perceive Antigua. In the second part, the narrator talks about colonial Antigua as remembered from childhood experiences and the legacies of colonial practices in present day, post-colonial Antigua.

Kincaid was born in Antigua then moved to the United States. Reflecting back to her childhood, Kincaid shares her ideas about the American and European inhabitants. In this poetic style of writing, Kincaid grasps the reader's attention by vividly raising questions in our minds as she describes her own.


  • History and Background 1
  • Style of writing 2
  • Major Ideas 3
  • Critical Reception 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

History and Background

In 1493 Christopher Columbus was on his second voyage when he spotted an island. He named the island Antigua after the saint Santa Maria de la Antigua. Sir Thomas Warner from England was able to colonize the island in 1632 by starting plantations that included tobacco and sugarcane. This brought slavery to the island whom were imported from West Africa and worked on these plantations. Antigua became known as the English Harbourtown for its great location in the Caribbean and harbors. In 1834 slavery was finally abolished, but their conditions only got worse with the “land shortages and the universal refusal of credit”.[1] Antigua gained full independence on November 1, 1981. By 1990 the prime minister at that time Vere Bird, his son was removed from the public office for arms trafficking. The country also was having problems with money laundering. One of the worst things that happened to Antigua was in 2009 when the US Securities and Exchange Commission charged their biggest investor, Sir Allen Stanford, of investment fraud.[2] This caused Antigua to lose its main source of money. The island is known as a tourist location, but the island suffered damaged after Hurricane Luis 1995 and Hurricane Georges 1998, and a lack of tourist after September 11 and the murder of a British couple on the island. Jamaica Kincaid’s novel can be seen as anti-imperialism because she brings up the issue of tourism and government corruption, both of which became prevalent after colonialism was abolished. She criticizes Antigua’s dependence on tourism for its economy. The hurricanes caused great damage and this can also be seen in the novel when she describes how great the library was before, but how the library was completely destroyed and left in rubles after the hurricane. Antigua was not able to fully recover after the hurricanes. It damaged and destroyed many buildings that were never renovated like Kincaid’s explains in the novel. Kincaid explains how many people in office were charged with all forms of corruption. Antigua was never able to recover to become what it used to be under the British government. They lack money and uncorrupt political officials.

Style of writing

The way or style Jamaica Kincaid writes “A Small Place,” is a “point- of- view” perspective. She writes about different viewpoints to allow the readers to understand the different sides of her novel. In a way, it’s juxtaposed because Kincaid uses tourists and the Antigua people (workers) as a relationship of two different people that are experiencing life in a different point of view. Critics say Kincaid style is “intimidating,” [3] because the way she writes is like she’s attacking the readers/ tourist but really she’s speaking in a perspective format, that isn’t personal, just a perspective.[3] Her style understands; the history, the perspective, and political aspects to have great learning experience for any reader.

Based off Byerman’s article,[4] it seems when Kincaid refers to “you” in the textbook, she is basically polemicizing. She writes in second person to get the readers attention about how every country is different and how the media cast about the beauty of countries when there are really corruptions in the system. [4] She is using “you,” as in reference to the tourists and “I,” in reference to her and Antiguans. In a way, she polemicizes towards the tourists because us the tourist don’t fully understand the corruption of the country. “From the beginning, Kincaid establishes her authority by speaking in the second person and its voice in the text.” This is important because when you start reading, it starts off as a step-by-step process of how people would describe their traveling experiences to others. But then page 35, when she starts to aggressively attack “you,” you get that feeling of offense and makes you ask yourself “why are you attacking me?” Kincaid uses “you” and “I,” as a reference to capture the readers’ attention to understand the corruption that goes on in different countries and how she feels about colonialism.[4]

Jamaica Kincaid’s style of writing has poetic forms throughout and it continuously tries to grasp the attention of the readers. The defining quality of her style of writing is the sensuality and simplicity she uses. She shows a love and appreciation of the content when she writes about the history of Antigua. Kincaid tries to achieve stylistic impact of writing through repetition and deceptive simplicity.

In her article ‘Jamaica Kincaid’s Political Place: A Review Essay’ researcher and professor of literature at University of Trento;[5] Giovanna Covi’s talks about Kincaid’s art of writing being at its best in A Small Place as compared to her previous works of poetic fiction. Covi also talks about how, “the charm came primarily from shifting the reader’s perspective between autobiography and novel, between collection and series of short stories, in a continuous mixture of dream and reality. With a rocking-chair effect being obtained through a repetitive, child-like language whose lexicon and syntax were of the utmost simplicity.”

Major Ideas

Tourism as a neo-colonial structure

The theme of tourism dominates the first section of “A Small Place”. Kincaid employs the perspective of the tourist in order to demonstrate the inherent escapism in creating a distance from the realities of a visited place. Nadine Dolby dissects the theme of tourism in “A Small Place” and places Kincaid’s depiction of tourism in a globalized context that justifies Kincaid’s strong feelings toward it.[6] Dolby corroborates on Kincaid’s depiction of the tourist creating separation by “othering” the locale and the individuals that inhabit it. Furthermore, the tourist industry is linked to a global economic system that ultimately does not translate into benefits for the very Antiguans that enable it.

The tourist may experience the beauty on the surface of Antigua while being wholly ignorant of the actual political and social conditions that the Antiguan tourism industry epitomizes and reinforces.[7] Corinna Mcleod also touches on this idea by pointing out the disenfranchising nature of the tourism industry in its reinforcement of an exploitative power structure. In effect, the industry recolonizes Antigua by placing locals at a disenfranchised and subservient position in a global economic system that ultimately does not serve them.[8]

Racism and legacies of colonialism

While Kincaid expresses anger towards colonialism and the broken Antiguan identity that it has left in its wake, she avoids retreating to simple racialization in order to explain the past and present, for doing so would further “other” an already marginalized group of people.[7] Kincaid sheds light on the oppressive hierarchical structures of colonialism, which is still evident in the learned power structures of present day, post- colonial Antigua.

While she indeed acknowledges the justifications of oppression based on race in England’s colonization of Antigua, she also attempts to transcend the notions of an inescapable racialized past. In doing so she attempts to shape readers’ view of Antigua by creating a sense of agency.[7]

Critical Reception

Positive Reception

Kincaid’s work has received mixed reviews, both positive and negative.[9] Some of her overall reactions in the United States were characterized as immediate and enthusiastic.[9] The anger that people felt from her attacking nature in her reading simultaneously lent certain strength to her argument about the postcolonial condition of the Antiguan people by manifesting itself as an authentic and emotional account. She uses her anger about the situation as a way to definitively inform readers about the postcolonial Antiguan daily life. Being an enraged essay focusing on racism and the effects of colonialism, some people account for the most consistent and striking aspect of her work to be what critic Susan Sontag calls her, “emotional truthfulness." Sontag puts the reception in to critical terms with an eye towards the acuity of Kinkaid's writing when she says, It's poignant, but it's poignant because it's so truthful and it's so complicated, Sontag says. She doesn't treat these things in a sentimental or facile way.[10]

Negative Reception

Some people ultimately identified her harsh and convicted attitude in her writing as the main cause for not putting it down. The first chapter, focusing on the actions and motives of tourists not just in Antigua but in general, left general readers who shared their thoughts on various blog sites Some reacted with feelings of guilt due to the harsh criticisms of the tourists who came through Antigua while simultaneously appreciate that factual basis for which she wrote her book.[11] Others, however, saw it as an over attack on the Antiguan people as well as those tourists who frequented her country. (In 1988, near its publication; Kincaid’s A Small Place received very negative reception not only in Antigua but also in the United States. Her text was criticized for its vitriolic attack on the government and people of Antigua.[12] An editor of the New Yorker, Robert Gottlieb, considered Kincaid’s work to be too critical and ultimately refused to publish it. It was clear that overall, the book was not well received in Antigua, where Kincaid was actually banned for years due to her blatant critique of the Antiguan Government.[9] According to one book written in response to Kinkaid's work throughout her career, Jamaica Kinkaid: Writing Memory, Writing Back to the Mother she was not only banned unofficially for five years from her home country but she voiced concerns that had she gone back in that time, she worried she would be killed.[13] The reception taken from her book by the Antiguan people, and the people of the Caribbean; reflect the troubled way for which she depicts those groups in her writing. In one popular book, written after the outrage of feedback from A Small Place, Author Jane King of A Small Place Writes Back says, “Fine, so Kincaid does not like the Caribbean very much, finds it dull and boring and would rather live in Vermont. There can really be no difficulty with that, but I do not see why Caribbean people should admire her for denigrating our small place in this destructively angry fashion.” Moira Ferguson, a popular academic feminist writer stated that, “As an African-Caribbean writer Kincaid speaks to and from the position of the other. Her characters are often maligned by history and subjected to a foreign culture, while Kincaid herself has become and increasingly mainstream American writer[14]” Overall, as for the negative reception of the novel goes, Kincaid has taken what some call a savagely critical gaze on her birthplace, focusing on tourism and corruption, and created a large resistance by the people.[15]


  1. ^ Kaufman, Will, and Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson. Britain And The Americas : Culture, Political, And History: A Multidisciplinary Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2005. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost).
  2. ^ "Timeline: Antigua and Barbuda." BBC News. BBC, 20 June 2012. Web. .
  3. ^ a b Levett, Anna. "Jamaica Kincaid." Jamaica Kincaid. Kelly Writers House Fellows, 20 Mar. 2007. Web. 24 Nov. 2013
  4. ^ a b c Byerman, Keith E. "College Literature." February 1995. JSTOR. 2 December 2013
  5. ^ Covi, Giovanna. "Jamaica Kincaid’s Political Place: A Review Essay," Caribana, Rome, Italy. 1990, 1, 93-103.
  6. ^ Dolby, Nadine. "A Small Place: Jamaica Kincaid and a Methodology of Connection." Qualitative Inquiry 9.1 (2003): 57-73. A Small Place: Jamaica Kincaid and a Methodology of Connection. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.
  7. ^ a b c Gauch, Suzanne. "A Small Place: Some Perspectives on the Ordinary." Callaloo 25.3 (2002): 910-19. JSTOR. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.
  8. ^ McLeod, Corinna. "Constructing a Nation: Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place." Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 12.1 (2008): 77-92. Print.
  9. ^ a b c Page, Y.W. (2007). Encyclopedia of African American Women Writers. Greenwood. p. 345.  
  10. ^ "The New York Times: Book Review Search Article". Retrieved 2015-05-13. 
  11. ^ "REVIEW: A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid | Paradise As A Kind of Library". Retrieved 2015-05-13. 
  12. ^ "Persona Non Grata: Anger and the Transnational Reception of Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place". Retrieved 2015-05-13. 
  13. ^ Bouson, J.B. (2006). Jamaica Kincaid: Writing Memory, Writing Back to the Mother. State University of New York Press. p. 94.  
  14. ^ Lang-Peralta, L.; American Comparative Literature Association (2006). Jamaica Kincaid and Caribbean Double Crossings. University of Delaware Press. p. 11.  
  15. ^ Balderston, D.; Gonzalez, M. (2004). Encyclopedia of Latin American and Caribbean Literature, 1900-2003. Routledge. p. 292.  

External links

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