Study Guide

A Small Place Slavery

By Jamaica Kincaid


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.