A Critique of Jamaica Kincaid’s, A Small Place

Jamaica Kincaid’s book, A Small Place, tells of a small postcolonial island called Antigua which is in the British West Indies.  Kincaid describes the unfortunate downfall and corruption of the island after it was free from Britain’s rule.  Throughout the book she makes it very clear that she does not approve of tourists by saying things such as, “An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that…” (Kincaid 17).  This entire book is a critique of Europeans and white people before and after colonization.

Kincaid’s biggest criticism is that of tourists in Antigua.  She says that “for every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere” (Kincaid 18).  She makes it seem as though she believes that natives should stay in their native land.  If natives did stay in their home land and never seek out other places, the colonization of Antigua would never have happened in the first place and it would be a better place today.  Only white men are fortunate enough to be able to leave their native land for vacation purposes, and that makes Kincaid angry.  She says, “Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour.  But some natives – most natives in the world – cannot go anywhere.  They are too poor” (Kincaid 18).  She says that the Antiguans are very envious of people who come to Antigua for personal pleasure.

There is so much corruption in Antigua and a lot of it has to do with the local Antiguans but the reason that they became so corrupt is, according to Kincaid, because of the English.  She says, “No natural disaster imaginable could equal the harm they did.  Actual death might have been better… they should never have left their home, their precious England” (Kincaid 24).  She continually criticizes the damage that was done after the decolonization of Antigua.  She gives a lot of very fascinating facts that describe how exactly the island is corrupt.  One such example is that of the Barclays Bank.  The brothers who started the bank were originally slave traders but then went into banking when slavery was outlawed.  They made a fortune borrowing money from the Antiguans (who were once oppressed and enslaved) and then giving it back to them.  She goes on to explain other businesses such as Barclays Bank, businesses that are necessary for the functioning of this island yet no native Antiguans run any of these businesses.  Foreigners still seem to have complete control over this island.

Kincaid makes it clear that this Island has been dominated by the white man for so long that they really do not have their own culture or their own history.  She says,

“…I see millions of people…made orphans: no motherland, no fatherland… and worst and most painful of all, no tongue. (For isn’t it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime? … for the language of the criminal can contain the goodness of the criminals deed” (Kincaid 32).

Their lives have always been completely based around the English.  When the queen came to visit Antigua the repaved all of the roads that she would be driving down, and cleaned up all of the areas that she would see just so she would have a comfortable stay there, yet nobody ever bothered to clean up the old library that had been destroyed years ago for the use of the local Antiguans nor did anyone create a proper sewage system.

A Small Place critiques the corruption created because of the English, even though they thought they were doing some good.  Kincaid says about the English, “you loved knowledge, and wherever you went you made sure to build a school, a library (yes, and in both of these places you distorted or erased my history and glorified your own)” (Kincaid 36).  She is very harsh in all of her criticisms.  The one quote that really made an impact on me is when Kincaid defends the Antiguan culture before colonization and says, “Even if I really came from people who were living like monkeys in trees, it was better to be that than what happened to me, what I became after I met you” (Kincaid 37).


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