Study Guide

The Narrator in A Small Place

By Jamaica Kincaid

The Narrator

You know you're reading an unconventional novel when the narrator is the only traditional character you can find. At times, she's just a disembodied voice; at others, she's an active participant in the proceedings. In our eyes, she's simply the most honest tour guide on the planet.

Welcome to Antigua

Oddly, the narrator is at her most confrontational at the start of the tour. After railing against the sorry state of affairs in Antigua, she calmly explains that she might have tried to "blow things up" had her "life taken a different turn" (2.2). You might recoil at that—a threat of violence is nothing to scoff out—but there's no indication that this is a real threat. Instead, it's just her way of expressing how difficult life is for Antiguans.

Her mood improves when she shows us the old Antigua Public Library. As a child, her weekly visits were "the thing [she] liked to do best" (3.1). So you can understand her dismay at the library's ramshackle state, despite an "unfulfilled promise of repair" (1.3). The narrator is bringing us a little closer now, being a bit more open about her feelings and who she is. This is turning out to be one heck of a tour.

Woman on a Mission

The narrator makes it her mission to rebuild the library—to rebuild this piece of her childhood. Her plan is to make her plea to wealthy benefactors and government officials in the hopes of some generosity. The results speak for themselves:

  • The woman from the Mill Reef Club has publicly pledged her support for the library, but denies the narrator's request. Word on the street is that the area is being turned into a tourist district to shill "all those awful things that tourists always buy" (3.1).
  • The narrator tries to contact the Minister of Culture for help but he's "in Trinidad attending a cricket match" (3.1). Uh, so how about a rain check on that one?

Can you understand where she's coming from after this ordeal? She's not asking for much: simply a place to read some books. The only people on the island who can fund this operation are government officials and foreigners (they're the ones with disposable income), both of whom have refused to help. We'd be frustrated, too. Heck, she's not even asking for something new, just a return to a public good Antiguans used to be able to enjoy.

Time Keeps on Slipping

If you came into this book hoping for a nice shiny conclusion with a ribbon on top, then you're going to walk away sorely disappointed. The narrator never rebuilds the library. She's also never going to be able stop tourists from coming, and never going to be able to convince foreigners to look at her people as equals. She's just one person from a very small place.

But like the tourist ("you"), she's both a specific character and a representation of a larger group. She's just an Antiguan who has "no way to compare the way they are now to the way they used to be" (4.1). If her goal is to force readers to look at Antiguans as individuals (and we'd bet our last donut that it is), then we'd say that she does a bang-up job. Like all Antiguans, the narrator has been swept up in historical events that she never asked for—and now, all she can do is hold on to her small place for dear life.

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