Study Guide

A Small Place Quotes

  • Power

    You may be the sort of tourist who would wonder why a Prime Minister would want an airport named after him—why not a school, why not a hospital, why not some great public monument? (1.1)

    In case you're still wondering, allow us to clear this one up: The Prime Minister of Antigua doesn't care about schools and hospitals because tourists won't see that kind of stuff. Immediately we can tell that the Antiguan government doesn't have its citizens' best interests at heart.

    If you were to ask why you would be told that the banks are encouraged by the government to make loans available for cars, but loans for houses not so easily available. (1.2)

    Again, we see how the government uses its power not to help Antiguans, but to gain the respect (and money) of foreigners. And that's not even mentioning the fact that the government gets its cut on each one of these loans. Shady stuff.

    Of course, I know see that good behavior is the proper posture of the weak, of children. (2.3)

    Despite their obvious oppression, the Antiguan people seem unwilling to rock the boat. Kincaid is fed up with that kind of "good behavior"—after all, she's writing this book.

    You took things that were not yours […] You murdered people. You imprisoned people. You robbed people. You opened your own banks and you put our money in them. (2.6)

    With this in mind, is it really so surprising that the Antiguan government is corrupt? Antigua is a country founded on the abuse of power, and that's one tradition that'll take some time to fade away.

    You will forget your part in the whole setup, that bureaucracy is one of your inventions, that Gross National Product is one of your inventions, and all the laws that you know mysteriously favour you. (2.6)

    Kincaid sees the globalized economy as a way for the powerful to abuse the powerless. It's hard to disagree, especially when she has examples like the slave traders-turned-bankers Barclay brothers.

    What sort of place has Antigua become that the people from the Mill Reef Club are allowed a say in anything? (3.1)

    In Antigua, money can buy power. It doesn't matter if you don't live in Antigua, and it doesn't matter if you don't like the Antiguan people. The only thing that matters are dollar signs.

    The government then declares that only that company can be licensed to import the commodity that the business sells; great effort goes into concealing who the owners of these businesses are. (3.6)

    While there's plenty of systematic discrimination within Antigua, there's also plenty of run-of-the-mill racketeering and corruption. Instead of helping hard-working Antiguans rise up the social ladder, government officials choose to line their own pockets.

    The ministers, the people who govern the island of Antigua, who are also citizens of Antigua, are legal residents of the United States, a place they visit frequently. (3.7)

    Do you think America would be cool with a president who lived in Canada? Would Brazil be cool if a congressperson was also a citizen of, say, China? Then why is it okay here?

    In Antigua, people say that the man who has headed the government for twenty-five years perhaps by now thinks that the government of Antigua is his own business. (3.8)

    Listen: There's no way you can turn a government into a family affair and not have things go awry. Things might be okay for a generation or two, but it's only a matter of time until you end up picking a bad apple.

    All masters of every stripe are rubbish and all slaves of every stripe are noble and exalted; there can be no question about this. (4.2)

    Isn't that the truth? But there's a harsh undercurrent beneath this sentiment—that those same people who were forced into slavery still remain oppressed even a hundred some-odd years later.

  • Foreignness and 'The Other'

    Since you are a tourist, the thought of what it might be like for someone who had to live […] in a place that suffers constantly from drought […] must never cross your mind. (1.1)

    When it comes to Antigua, the things that tourists love are the same things that make it difficult to live there. This disregard for the harsh realities of Antiguan life "others," or dismisses, the Antiguan people.

    You are feeling wonderful, so you say, "Oh, what a marvelous change these bad roads are from the splendid highways I am used to in North America." (1.2)

    These impoverished conditions are seen as quaint and charming by tourists… But why? Don't they realize that Antiguans would much prefer to have a state-of-the-art highway system, like the U.S.?

    The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being. (1.5)

    The tourist is not bad until s/he becomes a tourist—that is, it's only the actions of the tourist that are immoral. Later, Kincaid makes it clearer when she explains that the only good British people are the ones that stayed home.

    Their ancestors were not as clever in the way yours were and not ruthless in the way yours were, for then would it not be you who would be in harmony with nature and backwards in that charming way? (1.5)

    This attitude is surprisingly common in wealthy countries like the U.S. This belief—though patently false—is a way for people to make themselves feel less guilty that they have so much, while others have so little.

    A ugly thing, that us what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing [...] and it will never occur to you that the people who inhabit the place in which you have paused cannot stand you. (1.5)

    Nobody likes a tourist—it doesn't matter if they're visiting Florida, New York City, or a small island like Antigua. Why would you like someone who takes over your hometown with little regard for you as a person?

    That the native does not like the tourist is not hard to explain. For every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere. (1.6)

    Let's put it like this: Would it be right for a rich person to come into the house of a poor person and watch them all day just because? That would be pretty rude, if you ask us, and we're thinking Kincaid agrees.

    Every native everywhere lived a life of overwhelming and crushing banality and boredom and desperation and depression, and every deed, good or bad, is an attempt to forget this. (1.6)

    Kincaid teases the tourist for living a boring life, but most people in general live boring lives. The only difference between "tourists" and "natives" is a bank account big enough to fund vacations.

    They should have never left their home, their precious England, a place they loved so much […] And so everywhere they went they turned it into England; and everybody they met they turned English. (2.1)

    The roots of this conflict can be traced back to the years of colonial rule. The Brits were the original tourists—the only difference being that they weren't interested in going back home once their vacation was done.

    There must have been some good people among you, but they stayed home. And that is the point. That is why they are good. They stayed home. (2.6)

    Although Kincaid gets a lot of flak for her uncompromising tone, she makes it clear that she doesn't hate people from the West—just those who would invade someone else's home and try to make it their own.

    The Syrians and Lebanese are called "those foreigners" even though most of them have acquired Antiguan citizenship. (3.6)

    The growing presence of Middle Easterners in Antigua illustrates the often contradictory notion of the "other." Although Europeans have caused more harm to Antigua than any other group, their familiarity makes them seem more trustworthy than these new immigrants.

  • Race

    Since you are a tourist, a North American or European—to be frank, white—and not an Antiguan black returning to Antigua, […] you move through customs with ease. (1.2)

    Although Antiguans run the country, they're still faced with more discrimination than the oodles of foreigners who enter their country each day. Try to tell us how that makes sense.

    And then there was another place, called the Mill Reef Club. It was built by some people who wanted to live in Antigua […] but who seemed not to like Antiguans (black people) at all. (2.3)

    That just adds insult to injury. Not only are these wealthy Americans taking control of Antigua, but they're doing so while despising the black people who make up most of its population.

    There they were, strangers in someone else's home, and then they refused to talk to their hosts or have anything human, anything intimate, to do with them. (2.3)

    It's not hard to not be racist. Here, let's give you a refresher—treat everybody, of every race, as a human being. Rinse and repeat. Now, was that so hard?

    He came to Antigua as a refugee (running away from Hitler) from Czechoslovakia. This man hated us so much that he would send his wife to inspect us before we were admitted into his presence. (2.3)

    You'd think that a World War II refugee would've figured out that discrimination is a bad thing, but this anecdote sadly proves us wrong. But that's the thing about racism: It never makes logical sense.

    There was a […] school which only in my lifetime began to accept girls who were born outside a marriage in Antigua […] it had never dawned on anyone that this was a way of keeping black children out of this school. (2.3)

    Institutional racism is rarely direct, instead limiting the rights of people of color through backhanded means. For real, though—Why in the world would a kid born out of wedlock not deserve an education?

    We thought they were un-Christian-like; we thought they were small-minded; we thought they were like animals, a bit below human standards as we understood those standards to be. (2.3)

    Here, Kincaid beautifully flips a typically racist argument to illustrate how hypocritical the colonialists were. The Antiguans took the British code of morality quite literally, even if the Brits didn't feel beholden to it themselves.

    Our perception of this Antigua—the perception we had of this place ruled by these bad-minded people—was not a political perception. The English were ill-mannered, not racists. (2.5)

    Despite all of this, most Antiguans did not see the English as racists, but as jerks. This is a testament to the way that systematic racism can burrow into a culture without anyone realizing it.

    She told me that she always encouraged her girls and her girls' children to use the library, and by her girls she means grownup Antiguan women. (3.1)

    This is a classic dehumanization tactic. By equating adult women with children, this rich lady (a member of the Mill Reef Club, it must be mentioned) is showing how little respect she has for the people who work for her day in and day out.

    I could see the pleasure she took in pointing out to me the gutter into which self-governing—black—Antigua had placed itself. (3.1)

    Although the woman from the Mill Reef Club pretends to love Antigua, she's enjoying some serious schadenfreude at the state of the country—it validates her racist beliefs.

    The government of Antigua allowed some special ammunition to be tested in Antigua—ammunition that the government knew very well was to be shipped to the government of South Africa. (3.6)

    This is pretty disturbing: The government of Antigua is helping South Africa enforce Apartheid. You don't get much more terrible than that. This is an example of how racism can be perpetuated, even by its victims.

  • Memory and the Past

    The sign hangs there […] and you might see this as a sort of quaintness on the part of these islanders, these people descended from slaves—what a strange, unusual perception of time they have. (1.3)

    The library becomes the focal point of A Small Place's view of time. The contradiction between the library's disrepair and the tourist's reaction to it illustrates two very different relationships with time.

    I can imagine that if my life had taken a certain turn, there would be the Barclays Bank, and there I would be, both of us in ashes. Do you every try to understand why people like me cannot get over the past? (2.2)

    Here we can see an example of the past still affecting the present—Barclay's Bank is making money off of the same people whose ancestors they sold into slavery. Are Antiguans expected to ignore this fact when it's staring them in the face?

    I was sitting across from an Englishman, one of those smart people who know how to run things [...] but who now, since the demise of the empire, have nothing to do; they look so sad, sitting on the rubbish heap of history. (2.3)

    Although their histories are intertwined, the English and Antiguans have very different relationships with the past. For Brits like this charming fellow, the fact that his country—a former empire—has its best days behind it must feel pretty deflating.

    This wrong can never be made right and only the impossible can make me still: can a way be found to make what happened not have happened? (2.3)

    The past cannot be undone. Although many of the individuals who oppressed her people are no longer around, their actions still affect the course of history.

    Have you ever wondered why it is that all we seemed to have learned from you is how to corrupt our societies and how to be tyrants? You will have to accept that this is mostly your fault. (2.6)

    Again, Kincaid emphasizes the way that the past defines the present. She's doesn't excuse the government for being corrupt, but rightfully points out that the only example for rule they have in the past is a corrupt one.

    As for what we were like before we met you, I no longer care. No periods of time over which my ancestors held sway, no documentation of complex civilizations, is any comfort to me. (2.6)

    Although the past is important to Kincaid, it's most important insofar as it relates to the present. What's the value of an illustrious past if it was thoroughly destroyed along the way to the present?

    In a small place, people cultivate small events. The small event is isolated, blown up, turned over and over, and then absorbed into the everyday. (3.2)

    Those of us who live in wealthy countries might not realize how different it is to live in a small, isolated place. The surroundings never change, the people never change, and events from the past don't seem so very far away at all. Then again, if you're from a small rural community, you might kind of know what this is like.

    The people in a small place cannot give an exact account, a complete account, of themselves. The people in a small place cannot give an exact account, a complete account of events. (3.3)

    Essentially, here the narrator is saying that people who live in places like Antigua lack the perspective needed to fully understand themselves or their place in the world.

    To the people in a small place, the division of Time into the Past, the Present, and the Future does not exist. An event that occurred one hundred years ago might be as vivid to them as if it were happening at this very moment. (3.3)

    Whoa—now this one is a mind-bender. A lot has happened over the last hundred years in Antigua, not least of which is its liberation from England. And for the Antiguan people, this all blurs together.

    It is just a little island. The unreal way in which it is beautiful now is the unreal way in which it was always beautiful. (4.1)

    Now this might be why there's no difference between the past, present, and future in Antigua—Antiguans are born and raised in a place where the natural world never seems to change.

  • Slavery

    You have brought […] books explaining how the West […] got rich not from the free [..] labour, for generations, of the people like me you see walking around you in Antigua but from the ingenuity of small shopkeepers in Sheffield. (1.3)

    Many people credit industrialization for making the West so wealthy, and they're not entirely wrong—industrialization was important. But you can't ignore the fact that slavery (and the exploitation of workers that followed emancipation) was a big factor, too.

    (isn't that the last straw; for not only do we have to suffer the unspeakableness of slavery, but the satisfaction to be had from "We made you bastards rich" is take away, too) (1.3)

    To the narrator, this mentality is used to negate the experience of the people whose ancestors were enslaved. It's a way of denying the contribution of anybody who doesn't fit the mold.

    But the Caribbean Sea is very big and the Atlantic Ocean is even bigger; it would amaze even you to know the number of black slaves this ocean has swallowed up. (1.4)

    The reality of the slave trade is far worse than anything you could imagine. The journey across the Atlantic was practically a death sentence and the reward for surviving was even worse.

    But the English have become such a pitiful lot these days, with hardly any idea what to do with themselves now that they no longer have one quarter of the earth's human population bowing a scraping before them. (2.1)

    Although colonialism and slavery are technically two different things, they share a great deal of similarities, key among them that both end with natives (or those taken by force from another nation) thrown to the bottom of the social ladder.

    The Barclay brothers, who started Barclays Bank, were slave-traders. That is how they made their money. (2.2)

    Businessmen made a lot of money off of the slave trade, and that money didn't just disappear after emancipation. It's an uncomfortable truth, but one that must be confronted.

    Do you know why people like me are shy about being capitalists? Well, it's because we, for as long as we have known you, were capital, like bales of cotton and sacks of sugar. (2.6)

    Because slavery is intimately connected to her past, Kincaid can see the ways that it has shaped our current economic system. Although slavery is no longer legal, it still weighs heavily on the minds of those whose ancestors lived through it.

    The word "emancipation" is used so frequently, it is as if it, emancipation, were a contemporary occurrence, something everybody is familiar with. (3.4)

    As you might imagine, emancipation is a significant historical event for the people of Antigua. As we'll see over the next few quotes, however, the end of formal slavery doesn't necessarily yield lives of freedom.

    In Antigua, people cannot see a relationship between their obsession with slavery and emancipation and their celebration of the Hotel Training School. (3.4)

    Antiguans are free, but they're still forced into working as servants. Sure, they get paid now (though still less than white people), but there are still few opportunities for them to move up the socio-economic ladder.

    People cannot see a relationship between their obsession with slavery and emancipation and the fact that they are governed by corrupt men […] In accounts […] almost no slave ever mentions who captured and delivered him or her to the European Master. (3.4)

    Kincaid implies that the slave trade required fellow Africans to sell out their countrymen for a payday. Similarly, we see corrupt politicians doing unconscionable things to citizens to line their own pockets—and those of their wealthy, usually white, benefactors.

    So, too, with the slaves. Once they are no longer slaves, once they are free, they are no longer noble and exalted; they are just human beings. (4.2)

    Everyone can agree that slavery is bad, right? And we can agree that owning slaves is just about the worst thing on the planet? Here, Kincaid is saying that the issue becomes more complicated when slaves become free, even though they are still dealing with its burden.

  • Visions of Antigua

    (when the Queen came, all the roads that she would travel on were paved anew, so that the Queen might have been left with the impression that riding in a car in Antigua was a pleasant experience) (1.3)

    Right off the bat, we can see that there are two different Antiguas—one for the wealthy and one for the poor. Like the Queen of freakin' England, the tourist is presented with a neutered version of Antigua, a Disneyfied tour that makes conditions seem better than they actually are.

    No very long after The Earthquake Antigua got its independence from Britain, making Antigua a state in its own right, and Antiguans are so proud of this that each year, to mark the day, they go to church and thank God, a British God, for this. (1.3)

    British colonialism has left a long-lasting impact on the country of Antigua. Even though the Brits have long since left, Antigua has integrated aspects British culture into their own—for better or worse.

    British colonialism has left a long-lasting impact on the country of Antigua. Even though the Brits have long since left, Antigua has integrated aspects British culture into their own—for better or worse.

    Kincaid means this in more ways than one. One on hand, the country is now self-ruled and no longer under control of the British, but on the other, she sees a lot of signs that it might not be changing for the better.

    Have I given you the impression that the Antigua I grew up in revolved almost completely around England? Well, that was so. I met the world through England, and if the world wanted to meet me it would have to do so through England. (2.3)

    It's impossible to separate the history of Antigua from the history of Britain. In fact, when you hear Jamaica Kincaid talk in real life, her accent sits comfortably between Caribbean and British. You don't get much more real than that.

    We felt superior to all these people; we thought that perhaps the English among them who behaved this way weren't English at all, for the English were supposed to be civilized. (2.3)

    The Antiguan people believed the things that the English said about themselves. Somehow, this only makes Antiguans more endearing to us as readers and the English a bit jerkier.

    Is the Antigua I see before me, self-ruled, a worse place than what it was when it was dominated by the bad-minded English and all the bad-minded things they brought with them? (3.1)

    Kincaid doesn't pull any punches, even when her own people are on the receiving end. You've got to respect that. Once again, however, we see the legacy of colonialism affecting modern Antigua in a negative way.

    The people at the Mill Reef Club love the old Antigua. I love the old Antigua. Without question, we don't have the same old Antigua in mind. (3.1)

    After the colonizers left, the people from the Mill Reef Club became the foreigners with the most power in Antigua. They have the power to shape their little slice of the country however they see fit—even if the country's actual citizens disagree.

    When Antiguans talk about "The Nation" (and they say "The Nation" without irony), they are referring to the nine-by-twelve-mile-long, drought-ridden island of Antigua. (3.1)

    When push comes to shove, this is what Antigua is. Forget about British imperialists, the Mill Reef Club, and Middle Eastern merchants—Antigua is just a small place.

    I cannot tell whether I was brought up by […] eternal innocents, or artists […], or lunatics […] or an exquisite combination of all three. (3.5)

    Sometimes Antiguans seem too naïve for their own good, sometimes they seem to be working the system with expert precision, and sometimes they just seem to be out of their minds. Kincaid has given up on trying to choose between the three and accepts her people with all their contradictions.

    Antigua is beautiful. Antigua is too beautiful. Sometimes the beauty of it seems unreal. (4.1)

    It's not the Antiguans' fault that they ended up on an island as beautiful as "The Nation"—in fact, it was the slave trade that brought many of them there in the first place. How were they supposed to know that Antigua would become one of the most sought-after countries in the world?

  • Wealth

    When this family first came to Antigua, they sold dry goods door to door from suitcases they carried on their backs. Now they own a lot of Antigua; they regularly lend money to the government. (1.3)

    These merchants don't seem to be bad people—in fact, they seem to have worked hard to get where they are. But it's never a good sign when a government needs to ask wealthy citizens for some extra cash.

    Evita is notorious because her relationship with this high government official had made her the owner of boutiques and property, and all sorts of other privileges. (1.3)

    So that's all it takes to become a wealthy business owner? The corruption within the government runs so deep that even the mistresses are rolling in dough.

    And before it got on a plane in Miami, who knows where it came from? A good guess is that it came from a place like Antigua first, where it was grown dirt-cheap, went to Miami, and came back. (1.4)

    Now that's just silly. Although the only people that are taken advantage of in this instance are tourists (no biggie), it's a bad sign for the way that the country works. It seems like running a business in Antigua is like playing a really high-stakes shell game.

    When the English outlawed the slave trade, the Barclay brother went into banking. It made them even richer. (2.2)

    When you think about it, it's pretty ridiculous that a family of slave-owners managed to leverage their wealth into a successful banking empire. To be honest, though, that seems about par for the course in Antigua. Do you think this is the case elsewhere, too?

    That part of St. John's was going to be developed, turned into little shops—boutiques—so that when tourists turned up they could buy all those awful things that tourists always buy. (3.1)

    It's a simple fact: Tourists have more money than Antiguans. With that in mind, money-grubbing businesses ignore the citizens of their country in favor of getting their hands into the wallets of wealthy foreigners.

    These offshore banks are popular in the West Indies. Only tourism itself is more important. Every government wants to have these banks, which are modelled on the banks in Switzerland. (3.6)

    This quote points out the hypocrisy of the West when it comes to matters of money. Switzerland gets a lot of credit for being a so-called "neutral" country, but Swiss banks are making oodles of cash off of third-world dictators.

    A food importer, a man from an old Antiguan family, regularly lends the government money. How does a food importer on a small island have enough money to lend to a government? (3.6)

    That's a good question… So do you have an answer? If you ask us, things in Antigua are never what they seem—especially where money is concerned. There's no saying what this "food importer" actually does for a living.

    Syrian and Lebanese nationals own large amounts of land in Antigua, and on the land […] they build condominiums. (3.6)

    The only people who actually have money in Antigua come from other countries. Can you blame Antiguans for being resentful about that?

    But some natives—most natives in the world—cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to go anywhere. (1.6)

    There are relatively few people in the world that can afford an international vacation. Often, these wealthy people visit poor countries like Antigua without ever considering the reaction from locals.

    What does it mean? The records of one set of enemies, bought by another enemy, given to the people who have been their victims as a gift. (3.7)

    For context, the "records" here are documents from the slave trade. With that in mind, this becomes a powerful—and disheartening—symbol: The balance of wealth is such that the former masters still rule over the former slaves.

  • Language and Communication

    There was a law against using abusive language. Can you imagine such a law among people for whom making a spectacle of yourself through speech is everything? (1.2)

    First off, there's nothing worse than censorship. But there's an even deeper problem here—the British were completely unwilling to communicate with and understand the people they ruled.

    When West Indians went to England, the police there had to get a glossary of bad West Indian words so they could understand whether they were hearing abusive language or not. (2.2)

    What's the point of this? It's not like the cuss words would offend them if they couldn't understand what was being said. Something a little more insidious is going on here, if you ask us.

    She told these girls over and over again to stop behaving as if they were monkeys just out of trees. No one ever dreamed that the word for any of this was racism. (2.3)

    It's hard to define something when you don't have the right language for it. We already know that words can be used as a tool of oppression, but it turns out that a lack of words can be used for the same effect.

    But what I see is the millions people, of whom I am just one, made orphans: no motherland, no fatherland, no gods, no mounds of earth for holy bring [...] and worst and most painful of all, no tongue. (2.3)

    As a writer, Kincaid holds language above all else. So yeah, she might be a little biased. But language is an important part of any culture, as it holds all sorts of little echoes of the past within it.

    For isn't it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime in the language of the criminal who committed the crime? (2.3)

    Think that colonialism isn't affecting Antigua today? Look no further than the fact that English is still the nation's official language if you want to disprove that thesis.

    The language of the criminal can contain only the goodness of the criminal's deed. The language of the criminal can explain and express the deed only from the criminal's point of view. (2.3)

    We don't want to get too heady, but the little intricacies of language have a way of shaping the way we think about things. The narrator wants to describe the many ways that her people have been wronged, but in the language of their oppressor, lacks the words to do so.

    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. (2.6)

    Sure, England loved reading, writing, and education, bringing that legacy wherever they went. But they used that intelligence to rewrite history, effectively changing the past through their mastery of language.

    In Antigua today, most young people seem almost illiterate. On the airwaves, where they work as new personalities, they speak English as if it were their sixth language. (3.1)

    If the narrator is nostalgic about anything related to the British, it's that they placed such an emphasis on language and communication. She sees the younger generation's poor communication skills as a harrowing sign for the future.

    What surprised me most about them was not how familiar they were with the rubbish of North America […] but […] how unable they were to answer in a straight-forward way, and in their native tongue of English. (3.1)

    To be honest, you could go to any high school in America and see similar things. There are many who argue that communication skills are some of the most important you can build—and they're getting rarer with each passing day.

    In Antigua my mother is fairly notorious for her political options. She is almost painfully frank, quite unable to keep any thoughts she has about anything […] to herself. (3.1)

    Like mom, like daughter, huh? In fact, it's not too much of a stretch to say that A Small Place is Kincaid's way of being as "painfully frank" as possible. Frankly, we wouldn't have it any other way.