Study Guide

The Tourist a.k.a. You in A Small Place

By Jamaica Kincaid

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The Tourist a.k.a. You

Hey, you. Yeah, we're talking to you—the one sitting behind that screen. What's your problem, dude?

Does it feel weird to be called out by a stranger like that? Do you feel defensive? Angry? Well, that is exactly what Kincaid is trying to achieve with A Small Place. By placing the reader ("you") in the role of the tourist (an "ugly human being" (1.5), according to Kincaid), she forces us to think hard about issues that plenty of us don't want think about at all. It might be a confrontational technique, but it works like a charm.

Socks and Flip-Flops

In many ways, the tourist is simply a representative character. Kincaid leaves things ambiguous—the tourist could be from North America "or, worse, Europe" (1.1), and s/he has no individual characteristics (or gender, for that matter). At certain point, this becomes explicit: When the narrator says that she hates "what [she] became after [she] met you" (2.6), she is specifically talking about the Western world in general.

Okay, so if the tourist is a representative character, then what does s/he represent? Not too much, as it turns out. Tourists live boring lives within the "amniotic sac of the modern experience" (1.5) with vacations being their one joy. Tourists try to fill this void in their lives by living vicariously through people who are "backwards in that charming way" (1.5)—people who live in places like Antigua. In truth, it seems like it just makes tourists feel better to see people who are worse off than them.

Reading the Reader

"But what about me?" we can hear you asking. Although you may not fit the mold described above, you become a tourist by reading this book—you're taking a journey through a country in the hopes of learning more about it. Plus, Kincaid knows that the primary audience for the book is going to be Americans, who are the sort of people that take week-long cruises to places like Antigua. Some authors might take a passive route, trying to paint a positive picture of the country in the hopes of building compassion from the reader—not Kincaid, though.

Kincaid shows readers what it feels like have your identity reduced to simple stereotypes, a reality Antiguans have had to face for a really long time. Like a stand-up comic, Kincaid spins these stereotypes on their heads in ways both haunting and hilarious, making these issues real to readers.

As the book goes on, however, it becomes less about critiquing the tourists for their actions and more about simply showing what life is like in Antigua—and why it is that way. So if you're willing to sit down, shut up, and listen, then you might just prove her stereotypes about tourists untrue.

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