Study Guide

A Small Place Chapter 1

By Jamaica Kincaid

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Chapter 1

  • We open on an unnamed narrator talking to a tourist (referred to as "you") who has just arrived in Antigua, a small island in the Caribbean.
  • The tourist goes through customs easily, lucky to be a resident of a wealthy country and not an Antiguan native who would be harassed at every step during this procedure.
  • The tourist exits the airport and comments on how Antigua is "more beautiful than any of the other islands" (1.1). The tourist is psyched: This is way more exciting than his/her boring life back home.
  • After haggling with a cabbie over fare, the tourist is swept down a "very bad road" (1.2) to his/her hotel. Oddly, the tourist loves these decrepit roads because they're a nice change of pace from the perfect roads back home. Because that makes sense, right?
  • The tourist wonders why there are so many fancy Japanese cars on the road. The truth is unsettling: The government (which owns the banks) provides financing for vehicles but not houses, forcing Antiguans to live in substandard conditions while ensuring that tourists get the hoity-toity rides they need.
  • They pass several buildings, including the hospital (famous for being terrible) and the old Antigua Public Library. The library was seriously damaged in the earthquake of 1974 and still hasn't been fixed.
  • Not long after this earthquake Antigua won its independence from England. The tourist (and the West, as a whole) likes to take credit for any success that Antigua has achieved, but the narrator refers to this twisted mentality as "the last straw" (1.3) for her.
  • The cab passes several mansions—one owned by a family of Middle-Eastern merchants, another by an infamous drug dealer, and another by a lady who gets up close and personal with a high-ranking government official. Charming.
  • Oddly, the roads surrounding the drug dealer's mansion are pristine—even nicer than "the road that was paved before the Queen's visit in 1985" (1.3) to make her think that the country was well-cared for.
  • Exhausted from all this darn thinking, the tourist zones out until s/he arrives at the hotel.
  • The narrator then states, rather plainly, that tourists are bad people. She's not saying that they're bad in their everyday lives, but only that their actions as tourists end up hurting the places they visit.
  • The tourist is jealous of the natives because of their so-called simple lives, but this self-centeredness prevents him/her from realizing the harm that s/he is doing.
  • But the truth is that the natives are jealous, too—they wish that they were the ones who could afford to take a nice vacation. But they live in a poor country, so they're forced to be entertainment for people wealthier than them.

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